Fund backs cancer vaccine for mesothelioma trial

June 1, 2010

JHMRF-funded research into using the body’s own immune system to fight mesothelioma is now proceeding to a clinical trial.

Fund trustees said they were delighted that the laboratory work carried out by Dr Zsuzsanna Tabi’s team of cancer immunologists at Cardiff University was moving into an exciting new phase with trials of an experimental cancer vaccine.

Dr Tabi has established a partnership with Dr Jason Lester, an oncologist at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, and UK biotech company, Oxford BioMedica to study the effects of the experimental cancer vaccine TroVax® in mesothelioma.

A feasibility study funded by the JHMRF will begin in the autumn using TroVax® in combination with first-line chemotherapy agents Alimta and Cisplatin.

JHMRF trustee Dr Kate Hill said: “The Cardiff immunology team is well established in their field and has shown a tremendous commitment to working with us to pursue research in mesothelioma, and we are delighted to continue our association with Dr Tabi and her colleagues.

“There are never guarantees in any type of experimental research but we believe that immunotherapy has potential in the treatment of mesothelioma.”

Oxford BioMedica Chief Scientific Officer Stuart Naylor said: “The pioneering work undertaken by Dr. Tabi and her colleagues have identified 5T4 as an exciting new therapeutic target in mesothelioma, a disease which has few treatment options available to patients.

“Oxford BioMedica is happy to be able to supply TroVax® for this phase I/II clinical study in mesothelioma patients and we are very pleased to be able to work with the June Hancock fund and colleagues at the Velindre hospital.”

Therapeutic cancer vaccines can be used in a number of ways. They can be injected into patients to stimulate the body’s own defence system to produce immune cells and antibodies which will attack the cancer cells by targeting specific markers (antigens) on them.

Immunotherapy may offer new ways of attacking cancer cells by targeting the unique markers on cancer cells, and by using the patients’ own immune cells and treat them in the laboratory to fight cancer cells more effectively, before injecting them back into the patient.

TroVax® is a cancer vaccine which targets 5T4, a protein expressed on most common tumour types and which has recently been shown to be present on mesothelioma cells by Dr Tabi and her colleagues. TroVax® has been shown to be safe and effective at inducing immune responses in other types of cancer but this study will be the first time that it will be used in mesothelioma in the UK.

The Fund is constantly seeking to advance the range and type of treatments on offer to patients by supporting high quality research and exploring novel approaches to therapy.

US biotech company Dendreon recently became the first to have a cancer vaccine approved by the US drug licensing agency but more research is needed to make immunotherapy part of standard-of-care in cancer treatment.