NHS England launches pioneering trials for world-first cancer vaccine

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Cancer Oncology Clinical trial NHS

Thousands of patients in England are set to be enrolled into groundbreaking trials for personalized cancer vaccines through an innovative NHS 'matchmaking' initiative aimed at saving lives.

To date, thirty hospitals have joined NHS England's Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad, which aims to fast-track patients into various trials to receive the vaccines as soon as possible.

Dozens of people have already enrolled in the trials, with the majority expected to take part from 2026 onwards – and thousands more are set to be recruited in the next year. 

The initial studies will target colorectal, skin, lung, bladder, pancreatic, and kidney cancers, with the possibility of including other cancer types in the future.

The vaccine, developed by biopharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Genentech using mRNA technology, operates by identifying specific mutations in a patient's tumor. Clinicians then utilize this information to design a personalized treatment.

Elliot Pfebve is the first patient in England to have been treated with a personalized vaccine for his bowel cancer.

Following the extraction of a 30cm tumor from his large intestine, Pfebve was directed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham for chemotherapy and participation in the clinical trial.

By specifically targeting cancer cells remaining after Pfebve's surgery, the vaccine may prevent the disease from recurring.

Eliott said: “Taking part in this trial tallies with my profession as a lecturer, and as a community-centred person. I want to impact other people’s lives positively and help them realise their potential.

“Through the potential of this trial, if it is successful, it may help thousands, if not millions of people, so they can have hope, and may not experience all I have gone through. I hope this will help other people.”

Hailing it as a 'landmark moment' for patients and the health service, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented: “Thanks to advances in care and treatment, cancer survival is at an all-time high in this country, but these vaccine trials could one day offer us a way of vaccinating people against their own cancer to help save more lives.

“The NHS is in a unique position to deliver this kind of world-leading research at size and scale, and as more of these trials get up and running at hospitals across the country, our national match-making service will ensure as many eligible patients as possible get the opportunity to access them.”

Dr Victoria Kunene, a consultant clinical oncologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and principal investigator for the trial, said the vaccines could be a 'significant and positive' development for patients.

However, she warned it is 'too early yet to say if these [trials] will be successful, though we are extremely hopeful'.

Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at the NHS, said: “We know that even after a successful operation, cancers can sometimes return because a few cancer cells are left in the body, but using a vaccine to target those remaining cells may be a way to stop this happening.

“Access to clinical trials could provide another option for patients and their families, and I’m delighted that through our national launch pad we will be widening the opportunities to be part of these trials for many more people, with thousands of patients expected to be recruited in the next year.”

Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, also described the new vaccines as 'incredibly exciting' and emphasized their potential to be a game changer in preventing the onset or recurrence of bowel cancer.

Information about the scheme was disclosed just before the world's premier cancer conference, the yearly gathering of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago. This event is expected to draw tens of thousands of oncologists, health professionals, and researchers this weekend.

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