A trial looking at vaccine treatment for cancers containing the Epstein Barr virus (PH1/101)

Cancer type:

Head and neck cancers
Nasopharyngeal cancer
Pharyngeal cancer




Phase 1

This trial looked at whether a vaccine containing the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) can boost immunity against EBV in people who have nasopharyngeal cancer. This trial was supported by Cancer Research UK.

The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) doesn’t cause cancer or any other medical problems in most people who are infected with it. Doctors don’t know why, but EBV is sometimes found in cancer cells, including cancers in the upper part of the throat (nasopharyngeal cancer).  They hope that getting the body’s immune system to attack the virus might kill cancer cells at the same time.

Vaccines boost the immune system’s ability to kill a particular virus by helping it recognise that virus. The vaccine in this trial might be a useful treatment for cancer, but first the doctors need to check whether it is able to boost immunity against EBV. The vaccine, called MVA-EBNA1/LMP2, contains some genetic code (DNA) from EBV that helps the immune system to recognise the virus.

The aims of the trial were to find out about the side effects, and to find the best dose of the vaccine to give.

Summary of results

The research team found that the MVA-EBNA1/LMP2 vaccine was safe and suggest that it is looked at in further trials.

This phase 1 trial recruited 16 people with nasopharyngeal cancer. They had all had chemotherapy and radiotherapy already. They had the vaccine as an injection into the skin once every 3 weeks. The plan was to have 3 injections, and 14 of the 16 people taking part had all 3.

The first few people taking part had the lowest dose of the vaccine. The next few people had a higher dose, and so on until they found the best dose to give. This is called a dose escalation trial.

The research team looked at the immune response to the vaccine in a number of different ways. They found that

  • 3 out of the 13 people had an immune response to the vaccine after 2 doses
  • 5 out of the 13 people had an immune response to the vaccine after 3 doses
  • Specialist white blood cells called T cells recognised the vaccine in 9 out of 10 people
  • 6 out of 16 people had increased levels of proteins called antibodies in response to the vaccine

Everyone taking part in the trial had some side effects, but they were nearly all mild and didn’t last long. The most common side effects included

  • Redness, swelling or itching at the injection site
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Tiredness

The research team concluded that the MVA-EBNA1/LMP2 vaccine was safe. They suggest that, as it didn’t cause any serious side effects, the highest dose used in this trial could be looked at in further trials.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial.  As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Neil Steven

Supported by

Cancer Research UK (Centre for Drug Development)
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUKD/05/034.

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 499

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Last reviewed:

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