A partnership between Cancer Research UK and Vaccitech Oncology Limited (VOLT) has brought forth an announcement for the first in-human trials for new lung cancer immunotherapy, introducing innovative immunotherputic vaccine strategies to patients with the condition.

With a recent review showed that lung cancer detection rates are at an all-time low, new innovations in detection and treatment are receiving more investment, and aim to improve patient experiences and survival rates.

The vaccine treatment is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system so that it attacks cancer cells, delivering cancer-associated antigens to antigen-presenting cells, called dendritic cells, which then cause the immune system to produce cytotoxic T cells to target and kill the cancerous presenting antigen cells.

The platform will be used to treat the most common type of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and is the first time that a viral vaccine programme will have been used. Clinical trials will simultaneously be ongoing to test similar recombinant virus vaccines on patients with late-stage prostate cancer.

In combination with the standard of care and first-line treatment for NSCLC, the clinical trials of the vaccine strategy will be managed and sponsored by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development (CDD). It will investigate whether the efficiency of chemotherapy is improved while receiving the immunotherapy, and assess the ability of the immunotheraputic to provoke a safe and effective anti-cancer immune response in cases with NSCLC.

VOLT retains the option to undertake further development and commercialisation, once clinical trials have been completed. If they decide not to continue, then Cancer Research UK will take the programme forward.

Approximately 80 people will be enrolled for the trial, all of whom have been diagnosed with NSCLC, which will start towards the end of 2020. Every year there are nearly 42,000 diagnoses of NSCLC in the UK, which accounts for 88 per cent of all new cancer cases. Only around 5 per cent of people survive NSCLC for 10 years or more in the UK, and new treatments are urgently needed.

The partnership is seen as a very important step towards accelerating promising treatments and immunotherapy that are vital to help more people survive lung cancer, which remains exceptionally hard to treat effectively. Priming the immune system with a modified adenovirus, alerting it to the presence of cancer cells could offer an brand new method of treating the disease.

VOLT CEO Bill Enright said “We believe that this partnership is an important validation of our prime boost platform’s utility in oncology as well as infectious disease.” 

NSCLC cancer has been insensitive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy compared with small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The most common types of NSCLC are squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma, but there are several other types that occur less frequently.

Standard treatments for NSCLC have poor results, except in the instance of the most localised cancers, in which surgery has remained the most curative option with the addition of post-operative chemotherapy. All newly diagnosed NSCLC patients are considered as potential candidates for evaluating new forms of treatment.

Smoking remains the most common cause of all lung cancers, with other causes including radon exposure, as well as asbestos, soot, chromium amongst others. A family history of lung cancer is also a major factor.

VOLT is a spin-out company from the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, one of the most prestigious vaccine research centres in the world, and the new partnership with Cancer Research UK is a strategic collaboration with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, a non-profit organisation formed of an international community of scientists with a focus on cancer research.

Jonathan Skipper, executive vice-president for technology development at the Ludwig Institute said “Previous clinical trials of experimental cancer vaccines targeting MAGE and NY-ESO antigens have demonstrated that these antigens are highly specific to cancer and capable of eliciting strong immune responses.”

It’s believed that the programme will be capable of inducing sustained levels of the T cells in order to provide the therapeutic effects in patients.

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