'New hope' for cancer cure in vaccine that uses patient's own DNA

‘New hope’ in cancer cure race as personalised vaccine made from patients’ own TUMOURS stops relapses after four months

  • Eight head and neck cancer patients given jab after surgery to remove tumours
  • None saw tumours return after four months while two relapses in control group
  • Vaccine uses weakened smallpox virus and patient’s own cancer cells
  • A cancer jab custom-made from patients’ own tumours has produced ‘really hopeful’ results in a trial on NHS patients.

    None of the eight head and neck cancer sufferers, who had a high chance of relapse, have seen their tumours return four months after getting the vaccine.

    For comparison, two in the control group who were not given the jab have already seen their cancers come back.

    The vaccine, which uses similar technology to the AstraZeneca Covid jab – uses DNA taken from each patient’s tumour.

    The genetic snippet is then inserted into a weakened virus used to deliver the jab inside the body, training the immune system to recognise and fight the cancer if it returns.

    It is given as a weekly jab for six weeks, after which patients are given a booster dose every three weeks for a year.

    The new figures are too small to draw any definite conclusions, but researchers say ‘all the data are pointing in the right direction’.

    Technology used to make the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines is also being trialled on cancer patients in the US and Europe.

    A cancer jab custom-made from patients¿ own tumours has produced ¿really hopeful¿ results in a trial on NHS patients. It is currently codenamed TG4050 (pictured)

    A cancer jab custom-made from patients’ own tumours has produced ‘really hopeful’ results in a trial on NHS patients. It is currently codenamed TG4050 (pictured)

    Head and neck cancers are newly diagnosed in more than 12,000 people in the UK each year, and 65,000 in the US. They kill just over 4,000 Brits a year and 14,000 Americans.

    There are more than 30 areas within the head and neck where cancer can develop, including the mouth and throat.

    The new vaccine – codenamed TG4050 – has been developed by the French company Transgene.

    It is known as a ‘viral vector vaccine’, using a genetically modified vaccinia virus, the same family that causes smallpox.

    The pathogen has been weakened to the point it cannot cause illness and has been used in vaccination programmes for decades.

    A piece of tumour DNA is inserted into the virus so that when it is injected into the body, it can train the immune system to be on watch for these cancer cells.

    The hope is that the body will be able to recognise and destroy them before they can start to multiply and form tumours.

    Doctors are optimistic about the jab because it is so specific to each individual person’s cancer – even though that will make it more expensive in future.

    Transgene’s chief medical officer Dr Maud Brandely said it provided patients with ‘new hope’ in the race to cure cancer.

    Cancer mutations can vary between patients, but by making a custom vaccine for every patient, it should be better at targeting these mutant cells.

    The vaccine is given to patients after they have had surgery to remove tumours. It is hoped the jab will catch cancer cells before they can even be found on a scan.

    Brian Wright was given his 10th vaccine dose at Clatterbridge recently and has 10 more doses to go until January.

    A year ago, Mr Wright had a 16-hour operation to get rid of a tumour in his mouth and swap his lower jaw with bone from his leg, followed by weeks of demanding radiotherapy.

    He told Sky News: ‘If you have had cancer in your throat, and they say they’re going to inject you with that cancer, it just sounds…’oh no you’re not’.

    ‘But then they explained it won’t give you cancer back, it will make your body immune to that cancer.’

    Transgene plans to treat a total of 30 patients in the trial for head and neck cancer.

    Half will be given the jab once their normal treatment ends, and the other half will get it when their cancer returns.

    Consultant oncologist and director of clinical research at the Clatterbridge centre, Professor Christian Ottensmeier, told Sky News he was ‘cautiously optimistic’.

    ‘I am really hopeful, yes,’ he said. ‘I am quite excited about it. All the data are pointing in the right direction.’

    ‘The immune system can see things we can’t see on scans,’ said Professor Ottensmeier, ‘it’s much smarter than human beings.’

    ‘If we can train the immune system to pick those cells that would otherwise lead to a relapse at a time when we can’t even see them, then the long-term survival chances for our patients are much higher.’

    Another clinical trial of the jab on ovarian cancer patients in France and the US is also showing promising results.

    NEW JAB USES A GENETICALLY WEAKENED VIRUS TO TEACH YOUR CELLS HOW TO RECOGNISE YOUR OLD CANCER

    How does it work?

    Codenamed TG4050, the vaccine is made by a French biotech company Transgene. 

    DNA collected from patients’ tumours is inserted into a harmless virus and injected into the patient. 

    The genetically modified virus teaches the patient’s immune system to look out for cancer cells, ideally wiping them out before there is even a lump.

    Doctors are feeling confident about the jab because it is uniquely made to treat the patient’s individual cancer, and the DNA of tumour cells differs between patients. 

    What did the trial find?

    None of the eight patients who received the jab had cancer relapses four months later.

    And two of the eight patients who didn’t get a jab relapsed, suggesting the vaccine is having a protective effect.

    The findings are still too small to draw definitive conclusions, however, and more data is needed. 

     Is it linked to the Covid vaccines?

    The Covid pandemic has fast-tracked vaccine development, with the Oxford team of scientists that made the AstraZeneca jab now using the same ‘viral vector’ method to tackle prostate cancer.

    Viral vector vaccines use a genetically modified vaccinia virus, from the same family that causes smallpox.

    The pathogen has been weakened to the point is cannot cause illness and has been used in vaccination programmes for decades.

    A piece of tumour DNA is inserted into the virus so that when it is injected into the body, it can train the immune system to be on watch for these cancer cells.

    The hope is that the body will be able to recognise and destroy them before they can start to multiply and form tumours.

    The mRNA technology from the Pfizer and Moderna Covid jabs has also been trialled for other cancers in the US and Europe.

    Can it work for other cancers?

    The jab is already being trialled for ovarian cancer patients in France, with five given the vaccine so far.

    It is hoped that it will be used for more cancers in the future, if these trials prove successful.  

    What does it mean for cancer care in the future?

    Transgene’s chief medical officer Dr Maud Brandely said the results show the jab could give patients more time in remission, providing cancer patients with ‘new hope’.

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