New leukaemia vaccine enters clinical trials

In collaboration with Adfero

UK scientists have launched an early clinical trial - phase-II - of a new cancer vaccine designed to help patients with leukaemia to fight the disease.

The DNA vaccine, which Cancer Research UK scientists helped to develop, is different from vaccines that help to prevent infectious diseases. Instead it is designed to strengthen the immune system in people who already have cancer, so that it puts up a stronger defence against their disease.

The vaccine stimulates the immune system to mount a response against a gene called WT1, which is switched on in almost all cases of chronic and acute myeloid leukaemia. The treatment helps the immune system to recognise and target the cancer cells.

Researchers plan to enrol up to 180 patients in the two-year trial, which will take place at hospitals in Southampton, London and Exeter.

Participants will receive six doses of the vaccine over a six-month period, followed by booster vaccines if successful.

The vaccine will be delivered using a technique called 'electroporation', in which rapid electrical pulses are used to increase the uptake of the vaccine into the body's cells.

Lead researcher Professor Christian Ottensmeier, professor of experimental cancer medicine at the University of Southampton and a consultant oncologist at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, explained that better treatments for leukaemia are urgently needed. The disease can be difficult to treat and some drugs can cause unpleasant side effects.

He revealed: "We have already demonstrated that this new type of DNA vaccine is safe and can successfully activate the immune systems in patients with cancer of the prostate, bowel and lung.

"We believe it will prove to be beneficial to patients with acute and chronic myeloid leukaemia."

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, said: "Researchers around the world are investigating ways to boost the body's own immune system and help it to target cancer cells. Testing new approaches in trials is a crucial step towards finding better ways to treat cancer."