The vaccine is effective against a type of herpes virus - the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) - which has been linked with a variety of cancers. About 90 per cent of people world-wide have been exposed to EBV; many suffer no ill-effects but in others it causes a range of illnesses depending on genetic and environmental factors.
In Britain, the virus causes glandular fever and has also been associated with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands which affects 1,200 people each year. In China, EBV is thought to be responsible for 50,000 deaths annually from cancer of the nasal cavity. In Africa, EBV is linked with Burkitt's lymphoma, which affects mainly children and causes the jaw to swell up to 10 times its normal size. Although this disease is treatable with radiotherapy and drugs, few children in the third world countries receive such expensive treatment. Large-scale vaccination with an affordable vaccine would prevent thousands of deaths.
The EBV vaccine has been developed by Dr John Arrand and Dr Mike Mackett of the Cancer Research Campaign Laboratories at the Paterson Institute in Manchester, in collaboration with CRC scientists in Bristol and Birmingham. Trials are expected to start before next year.
Dr Mackett said experimental results suggested that an individual who was injected with the purified protein would produce anti- bodies against EBV.
He predicted that a vaccine for widespread use would be available by the end of the decade. In the UK it may be possible to screen for those who have not been exposed to the virus naturally, and vaccinate against glandular fever and possibly Hodgkin's Disease.
Viruses are believed to be responsible for about 20 per cent of all human cancers but only four have been positively associated with the disease to date.Reuse content