Cancer patients begin vaccine trial
More than 1,000 patients with advanced cancer of the pancreas have begun a major trial of a vaccine which could lengthen the lives of sufferers.
The final stage of the TeloVac trial, taking place in 53 UK hospitals, is testing an injection which "primes" the body's immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. Medics hope the therapy will make chemotherapy more effective.
Around 7,600 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Britain each year. It is particularly difficult to treat, and only 3% of those diagnosed live more than five years.
Smaller studies have found people given the vaccine, called GV1001, as well as chemotherapy live three months longer than those given chemotherapy alone. Even then, they lived an average of just 8.6 months.
John Neoptolemos, director of the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre and a leader of the research, told The Times: "This will be a pivotal trial. If it's successful, it would make a real difference to the way clinicians behave and patients are treated."
GV1001, made by South Korean pharmaceutical company KAEL GemVax, contains a fragment of an enzyme called telomerase, which is normally found in human embryos and which cancer cells use to divide unchecked.
The vaccine teaches T-cells, a part of the immune system, to recognise cells that express telomerase - which in adults are all cancer cells - and attack them.
The results of the 1,110-person trial will be announced next autumn, and, if successful, a vaccine could be approved in late 2013 or 2014.
Scientists hope the method could work on other types of tumour and a trial for lung cancer is planned for later this year.
Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, stressed the vaccine was not a cure for cancer, but could prolong the lives of sufferers.