Trials start on tumour-gene cancer vaccine

A GENETIC cancer vaccine is to be tested on patients in the first trial of its kind in the UK, it was announced today.

The vaccine uses genes from tumours to kick-start the immune system and fight the disease. Within the next six months it is to be given to 14 patients with lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The Leukaemia Research Fund, which is backing the study, said it was the first trial in Britain, and probably the world, of a cancer vaccine made from DNA.

Professor Freda Stevenson, who will be leading the research at Southampton University, said: "In theory tumour cells should be killed by the immune system because it is programmed to destroy anything which is not a normal healthy cell. However, tumour cells are cunning. Though clearly labelled, they have developed ways of switching off the immune system to their presence, thwarting any possible attack. Our vaccine puts the immune system back on the scent."

The vaccine packs a powerful second punch. By being coupled with a tetanus toxin, it generates an immune system response 50 times stronger than would otherwise be possible.

Dr David Grant, scientific director at the Leukaemia Research Council which is providing pounds 746,000 for the trial, said: "It is imperative we find new ways to treat cancer of the blood which are less punishing and more successful.

"Vaccination targets cancer cells in a way which is not possible using conventional therapies at present.

"It is a simple idea, but it has become a great challenge because of the very complex nature of the immune system which we are only just beginning to understand."