A trial of a vaccine for nasopharyngeal cancer that contains the Epstein Barr virus

Cancer type:

Head and neck cancers
Nasopharyngeal cancer
Pharyngeal cancer




Phase 1

This trial looked at a vaccine that might help the immune system to recognise and kill nasopharyngeal cancer cells that contained a virus called Epstein Barr.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a cancer that begins in the part of your throat called the nasopharynx.

Cancer Research UK supported this trial.

More about this trial

The usual treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer is radiotherapy or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy (chemoradiation).

Vaccines can help the immune system to recognise and act against a virus. Researchers hoped a vaccine that gets the body’s immune system to recognise and attack Epstein Barr (EBV) might kill cancer cells containing the virus. The vaccine is called MVA-EBNA1/LMP2.

EBV is a common virus that many people carry without noticing any effects. But the virus is sometimes found in cancer cells and is often found in nasopharyngeal cancer cells.

In this trial, they wanted to find out:

  • if the vaccine stimulated the immune system
  • more about the side effects
  • if an extra dose of the vaccine stimulates the immune system even more

Summary of results

The researchers found the vaccine was safe and the side effects were mild. It stimulated the immune system in a few people.

22 people took part in this phase 1 trial. Everyone had already had treatment and in some:

  • treatment had worked  
  • they had a few cancer cells left over but they didn’t need further treatment at the time or there wasn’t a suitable treatment available

The vaccine is an injection. Everyone had the MVA-EBNA1/LMP2 vaccine up to 3 times. And a final injection 3 months later.

The trial team found the vaccine stimulated the immune system to attack the virus. They had the results for 17 people. Out of these, 6 people’s immune system responded.

The trial team looked at how well the 4th vaccination worked. They found it didn’t help the immune system as much as they had hoped.

At the end of the 2 year follow up period:

  • 14 people were living
  • 7 people had died
  • 1 didn’t have follow up

Side effects
Everyone had at least 1 side effect. Most were mild and included:

  • a skin reaction at the site of the injection
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • flu like symptoms

The researchers found the vaccine was safe and could stimulate the immune system in some people. They hope to run more trials using the vaccine in combination with other treatments.

We have based this summary on information from the research team.  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 research 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)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUKD/13/001.

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

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


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

Charlie took part in a trial to try new treatments

A picture of Charlie

“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”

Last reviewed:

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