How Cancer Vaccines That Are Part of a Multi-Country Trial in Europe Are Working

    Last month, a patient in London received a personalized mRNA vaccine against melanoma

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    Thousands of cancer patients in the UK will be able to access a series of clinical trials of a new type of treatment that uses vaccines to fight their disease.So far, 30 hospitals have signed up to the Cancer Vaccine Launch Platform.It is designed to connect patients with upcoming trials that will use mRNA technology, the same technology used by some Covid vaccines.

    The vaccines are designed to prime the immune system to recognize and destroy remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of disease recurrence.The trials will also recruit patients from Belgium, Germany, Spain and Sweden, who will receive up to 15 doses of the personalized vaccine.

    First in the trial

    Elliot Pfebve, 55, is the first patient treated with a personalized colon cancer vaccine in England.Elliot, who has already undergone surgery and chemotherapy, received the injection at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, a city in northern England.

    “I’m excited. I did some research on the treatment trial. If it’s successful, it will be a medical breakthrough,” he says. “It can help thousands, if not millions, of people, so they can have hope and not experience everything I have experienced,” he adds.

    After Elliot’s initial treatment, tests showed that he still had fragments of cancerous DNA in his bloodstream, which increases his risk of the cancer returning.So he was enrolled in a trial of an investigational vaccine manufactured by the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which uses the same mRNA technology as in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for covid.

    What is a personalized cancer vaccine?

    Vaccines are generally designed to prevent disease.But cancer vaccines are created as a treatment once someone has been diagnosed.As with conventional vaccines, they prepare the immune system to seek out an enemy, in this case the patient’s cancer.

    In Elliot’s case, a sample of his tumor was sent to BioNTech labs in Germany, where up to 20 mutations specific to his cancer were identified.With this information, a vaccine was created using mRNA, which contains instructions for Elliot’s cells to produce mutated rebel proteins unique to his cancer cells.

    The vaccine acts as a “wanted” poster, unmasking the cancer cells that often hide in the body to resurface later.The intent is that the vaccine primes your immune system to seek out and destroy any remaining traces of cancer, thus improving your chances of being free of the disease for years to come.

    “New era”

    Victoria Kunene, principal investigator of the trial at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, told journalist Fergus Walsh, “I think this is a new era. The science behind it makes sense.”

    “My hope is that this will become the standard of care. It makes sense that we can have something that can help patients reduce their risk of having a recurrent cancer.”

    But this is just the beginning, and while there is great optimism about the potential of mRNA vaccines for cancer treatment, they are still in the experimental stage and only available as part of clinical trials. The study will end in 2027. One hope is that the vaccines will produce fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy.


    Elliot recounts that, aside from a mild fever after the injection, he had no other problems with the vaccine.“Seeing Elliot receive his first treatment as part of the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad is a historic moment for patients and the health service.“This as we look to develop better and more effective ways to stop this disease,” commented Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England.

    Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer, said, “We know that even after a successful operation, cancers can sometimes come back because there are some chance,r cells left in the body, but using a vaccine to attack those remaining cells may be one way to prevent this from happening.”

    Last month, a patient in London received a personalized mRNA vaccine against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.That vaccine was created by Moderna and used the same technology as in its covid vaccines.Moderna and BioNTech have begun or are planning trials of mRNA vaccines against a variety of tumor types, including lung, breast and bladder cancer.

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