Could we be on the verge of a breakthrough when it comes to terminal cancer? Possibly, say scientists, as a new immunotherapy trial is revealed to be taking place in the U.K. this year.
Scientists led by the Surrey Cancer Research Institute are working with cancer patients who have failed to respond to treatment in order to determine whether a vaccine made from a cancer protein is able to stimulate the body’s own immune system into destroying unhealthy cells.
Two patients have already received the vaccine as part of the trial, which is expected to run for up to two years. One of them is Kelly Potter, 35, who told the Independent that she was delighted to be part of the trial after being diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer in July 2015.
The trial, which is taking place in Guildford and London, is for people with solid tumours (irrespective of the type of cancer) and is recruiting those for whom previous types of cancer treatment have failed.
Professor Hardev Pandha, who is leading the trial at the Surrey Cancer Research Institute, said, “We know that the immune system in patients with advanced cancer is suppressed, so it’s unable to recognise and kill cancer cells. In this trial, we are investigating a form of immunotherapy designed to activate the body’s immune system by administration of a vaccine based on fragments of a key cancer protein.”
Immunotherapy is the prevention or treatment of disease with substances that stimulate the immune response. According to Cancer Research UK, immunotherapy is a relatively new type of cancer treatment that “wakes up a patient’s own immune system so it can fight cancer.”
It has been hailed as “the biggest cancer breakthrough since chemotherapy,” and many experts believe it will replace chemotherapy as a treatment within the next five years. By breaking down the protective shields put up by some tumours and training the body how to attack the tumours, immunotherapy has given many terminally ill cancer patients their lives back.
An immunotherapy trial involving 950 British patients with advanced skin cancer showed that for 60 percent, the tumours had either shrunk or been brought under control, reported the Daily Mail. Several U.S. studies have been successful as well. In February, experts announced they had seen “extraordinary” results in early trials involving terminally ill patients with blood cancer, more than half of whom experienced complete remission.
Life sciences minister George Freeman said the new trial is “pushing new boundaries for potential cancer treatments and [bringing] new hope for patients in the fight against cancer.”