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New Cancer vaccine? 2005-03-31

Posted by clype in Health, Money.

A new cancer vaccine, which could be used for the mass immunisation of the general population against the killer disease, is under development by Scottish scientists.

Current vaccines against cancer are mostly ineffective and too expensive to be given to the general population, so they are used only on people who already have some form of the disease.

The new vaccines — which could be taken in the form of a pill — are being developed at ‘The Moredun Research Institute’ at Penicuik, near Edinburgh. According to early experiments, they produce a far greater immune response than traditional vaccines for certain diseases.

Theoretically, there is no reason why they should not perform equally well against cancer and other conditions such as HIV, malaria and rabies, and potentially consign them to history in the same way as smallpox and diphtheria were eradicated following the discovery of vaccines in the late 19th century.

Trials of a vaccine against lung cancer in sheep are due to start shortly, and human trials could start ‘within a year or two’, according to Mr.John March, a Moredun researcher.

The scientists, who have received funding from ‘Scottish Enterprise’, are planning to set up a spin-off company in autumn 2005 to exploit the vast commercial potential of what they hope will be an effective treatment for cancer, and which could eventually also be used to prevent it occurring in the first place. Mr.March, who will give a lecture about his work at ‘The Society for General Microbiology Conference’ in Edinburgh on Tuesday, said the new type of vaccine used a bacterial virus. The virus does no harm to humans but acts as a ‘container’ to deliver DNA of cancerous cells or dangerous viruses into the human body.

According to the Moredun research, this is far more likely to trigger a response by the immune system, which often fails to attack a cancer because it is made up of cells from the patient’s body. As well as being more effective in stimulating the immune system than traditional vaccines, which have changed little since they were invented by the French scientist Mr.Louis Pasteur, the viruses also mass produce themselves, which means they would be cheap to make, allowing for the vaccination of the general population. And as the virus container protects the vaccine, it can be administered in pill form rather than as an injection. Mr.March said:

[Picture of John March in Lab]
‘There are cancer vaccines that have been tested, but they don’t work very well because it is difficult to produce the actual cancer material. But all we need is the DNA. We put it in a bacterial virus and it will then replicate itself.

‘Potentially, it gives us the opportunity to make cancer vaccines relatively cheaply and, hopefully, cancer vaccines that would work a lot better’.

If tests on mice and sheep over the next few weeks prove successful, Mr.March will seek to obtain permission from the authorities to test the vaccine on humans.

‘We could trial it within a year or two’, he said.

‘If people have cancer and there’s nothing much else you can do, you would get permission to try an experimental vaccine.

‘If they are going to die anyway, why not? ‘At the moment, people aren’t vaccinating against cancers to prevent them.

‘People are only vaccinating against cancer after someone has got it — it’s like “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

‘If we can vaccinate in advance, it will hopefully reduce the incidence of cancer even appearing.

‘Most of the vaccines that are currently used are based upon the same principle Pasteur used.

‘For vaccines to take us forward into the next century, we do need a leap forward in technology.

‘I would hope this technology we’ve been developing is going to help us with that, but it is still relatively early days’.

Professor Mr.Peter Stern, the head of Cancer Research UK’s immunology group at ‘The Paterson Institute of Cancer Research’ in Manchester, said Mr.March’s type of vaccine could lead to a new way to treat cancer, but he thought human trials were several years away. He said:

‘He is making the point that we might be able to harness the immune response, using such vaccines to have a therapeutic cancer effect.

‘There’s no doubt that is something many of us feel is a really useful way to develop treatments in the future.

‘This vaccine is one of a lot of possibilities and he is at a very early stage.

‘It’s one thing to say this might work; it’s another thing to show that it has worked. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

‘The evidence that we can manipulate the immune response in order to potentially treat cancer is accumulating all the time’.

‘I think it’s extremely unlikely that a global vaccine against lung cancer (in particular) could be developed in the near future.

‘But you cannot say it wouldn’t be possible if we understood enough about the mechanisms that lead to these kinds of cancers’.


Scientists have made a major breakthrough in breast cancer research which could potentially increase the lifespan of patients by 30 per cent. Ms.Judith Harmey, of ‘The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’, said researchers had taken a successful step with the development of novel protein capable of blocking the breast cancer growth factor.

‘It has been shown in a pre-clinical model that it can inhibit breast tumour growth, increase survival by 30 per cent and reduce secondary growths in bones’.

‘The secondary growth in bone is what kills the majority of people’.

The study showed that the new protein blocked the insulin-like growth factor which is known to play a ‘key’ role in the development of many cancers. The scientists said it would be of value in treating both breast and prostate cancers in the future. Ms.Harmey said:

‘It has worked better than ever expected’

She added that there was a considerable amount of work to be done, and it would be three or four years before the research could potentially be used on people with breast cancer. The six-year research project has found that the protein effectively starves the tumour by killing the blood vessels in the growth — stopping the supply of oxygen and nutrients.

‘This is a targeted approach, which tends away from using “Chemotherapy” as it kills normal cells as well as tumour cells’, said Ms.Harmey.

‘The targeted one hits the tumour only’.

She said this approach was less intrusive, less toxic and more specific than ‘Chemotherapy’.


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