Lung cancer vaccine enters large-scale clinical trial

Cancer Research UK

A new treatment for the most common form of lung cancer, developed from initial research by Cancer Research UK scientists, has entered a pivotal phase III clinical trial.

The drug, called Stimuvax, is a type of therapeutic vaccine that targets a specific protein found in many tumours, including non-small cell lung cancer. It was developed by Canadian biotech company Biomira following Cancer Research UK-funded studies led by Professor Joyce Taylor-Papadimitriou of Guy’s Hospital, London. Biomira have already run phase II trials with very encouraging results.

The international phase III trial, named START (Stimulating Targeted Antigenic Responses To NSCLC), is expected to enrol its first patient this month. Run by pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA, it will eventually include more than 1,300 lung cancer patients in 30 countries, including the UK.

Therapeutic vaccines are a relatively new development in cancer treatment. Unlike preventative vaccines, they are treatments that induce the body’s own immune system to identify and kill existing cancer cells. Stimuvax is designed to stimulate the immune system to recognise and react to a molecule called MUC1, which is much more abundant on tumour cells than healthy cells. The immune system then kills the cancer cells with MUC1, hopefully without overly harming healthy cells.

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT), Cancer Research UK’s development and commercialisation company, licensed a number of discoveries to Biomira, which led to the development of Stimuvax for advanced non small cell lung cancer. Merck KGaA also plans to investigate the use of Stimuvax for other types of cancer.

Dr Keith Blundy, chief operating officer of CRT, said: "We are extremely pleased that Stimuvax has entered the final stage of clinical trials. The drug is one of CRT’s portfolio of more than 20 partnered agents in clinical development. Targeted vaccines are an exciting approach that could potentially offer new treatment options for major types of cancer."

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of CRT and chief operating officer of Cancer Research UK, said: "We’re delighted that another drug based on Cancer Research UK-funded basic research has reached the final stage of clinical development. The ‘translation’ of basic research into patient benefit is the major focus of our work and we hope that new ventures, such as the expansion of our drug discovery activities across the country, will lead to many more such drugs entering trials in the future."

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Notes to Editor

Lung cancer

  • Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK after breast cancer, and the most common cancer worldwide.
  • There were more than 37,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the UK in 2003.
  • Non small cell lung cancer accounts for 80 per cent of total lung cancer cases.
  • Current standard treatments for lung cancer patients are surgery, platinum-based combination chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

START trial

In the trials, Stimuvax will be compared to a placebo. More information on the START trial can be found here.

Research centres in Edinburgh, Leeds and Exeter will be participating in the trial.

For more information about clinical trials in the UK, visit our patient information website, CancerHelp UK.

Cancer Research Technology

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT) is a specialist commercialisation and development company, which aims to develop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients. CRT works closely with leading international cancer scientists and their institutes to protect intellectual property arising from their research and to establish links with commercial partners. CRT facilitates the discovery, development and marketing of new cancer therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and enabling technologies. CRT is wholly owned by Cancer Research UK, the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world. Further information about CRT can be found here.

About Cancer Research UK

Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.

  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit our homepage.