A trial has begun on a vaccine treating pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers.
More than 1,000 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer have joined the TeloVac trial at 53 UK hospitals. Cypriot Professor John Neoptolemos from Royal Liverpool University Hospital, is helping to co-ordinate the trial
Vaccines are usually associated with preventing infections, but this is part of a new approach to try to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.
The trial involves regular doses of vaccine together with chemotherapy and compares this with chemotherapy alone.
The vaccine contains small sections of a protein, telomerase, which is over-produced by cancer cells. The aim is to stimulate the immune system to recognise the telomerase which sits on the surface of the cancer cells and to target the tumour.
Professor John Neoptolemos, said: “The problem is tumours are clever and are able to turn the immune cells into traitors which help to guard the tumour.
“The vaccine takes away the masking effect of the tumour.”
Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all common cancers. Just three in 100 patients survive the disease for five years or more.
Rhona Longworth, 43, who was diagnosed with the cancer in February, said: “For someone who’s never smoked and hardly ever drank, it was a big shock.
“I just hope the vaccine works and I’m one person who goes on to live a happy, healthy life after this.”
Joan Roberts, 69, said the vaccine appeared to have few side effects and she is keeping her fingers crossed about the impact on her cancer.
“I’m pleased that it’s stable and it hasn’t got any bigger. You’ve got to remain positive,” she said.
The TeloVac trial is being funded by Cancer Research UK. The charity is supporting trials against a range of cancers, using vaccines or antibody treatments to stimulate the immune system.
Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson said: “One of big problems with cancer treatment is you are almost always left with a few malignant cells and it is from those few cells that the cancer can regrow.
“If you can programme the immune system to recognise those cells and get rid of them altogether or keep them in check then you can effectively stop the cancer from growing back lifelong.”
The South Korean manufacturer of the vaccine, KAEL-GemVax, is planning a lung cancer trial later this year using the same technology.
Last year the first therapeutic cancer vaccine was licensed in the US as a treatment against prostate cancer.
The Phase III or final stage TeloVac trial should produce results in just over a year which will show whether the vaccine has a positive effect.
Cancer Research UK is keen to stress that the vaccine is not a cure, but if it works, might prolong life.
Professor John Neoptolemos is Professor of Surgery and Head of the Division of Surgery and Oncology at the University of Liverpool and Honorary Consultant Surgeon at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and grew up in London (Stamford Hill Junior School and then Owen’s Grammar School for Boys, in Highbury).
As an undergraduate he studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge (Cambridge: BA 1973, MA 1976) before completing his clinical undergraduate training at Guys Hospital (Cambridge: MB, BChir 1976). Following housejobs in London he completed his academic and clinical training in Leicester under Prof. Sir Peter Bell, being awarded a Doctorate in Medicine (Leicester: MD, 1986) . In 1981 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. During this time he spent a year in San Diego, California (1985) with Prof. A Hofmann (the famous biliary gastroenterologist) and also Prof. Babs Moossa (an international pancreas surgeon). His education was completed following training with Prof. Henri Bismuth (Paris) and Prof. Hans Beger (Ulm), international liver and pancreas surgeons respectively.
In 1987 he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Surgery at the University of Birmingham, where he refined his clinical and research interests towards pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. In 1990 he became a Reader and then in 1994 Professor of Surgery still at the University of Birmingham. In 1996 he was appointed Professor of Surgery and Head of Department of Surgery, University of Liverpool, and Honorary Consultant Surgeon, Royal Liverpool University Hospital and now leads one of the most successful clinical and academic surgical programmes in the UK (Now the Division of Surgery and Oncology). His specific areas of research are gene therapy for pancreatic cancer, pre-symptomatic diagnosis, prognostic and biological predictors of treatment response to pancreatic cancer, clinical trials of pancreatic cancer, hereditary and chronic pancreatitis and acute pancreatitis .
Awards include a Royal College of Surgeons of England USA travelling award (1984); Rodney Smith Prize, Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1987); Hunterian Professor of Surgery, Royal College of Surgeons of England (1987-88); Moynihan Travelling Fellowship, Association of Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland (1988); Royal Society of Medicine Travelling Professor (USA) (1989) ; British Council sponsored lecture tour of Thai Medical Schools at the invitation of the Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand (1990); Honorary membership of South African Gastroenterology Society (1991); Visiting Professor, Medical School, University of Hong Kong (1994); Eybers Visiting Professor, Medical School, University of Orange Free State, South Africa (1994); Visiting Professor, Christchurch Medical School, University of Otago, New Zealand (1995); External Examiner, Chinese University of Hong Kong (1996-1997); Wilson Wang Visiting Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong (1997); Visiting Professor, University of Singapore (1998); Visiting professor University of Heidelberg, 2002.
Official professional positions include Council Member of the United European Gastroenterological Federation (1998-2002) and member of the Scientific Committee (2002 et seq); member of the International Committee of the International Association of Pancreatology (1990 et seq ) and President (2000-2002); Scientific Committee of the European Pancreatic Club (1993-94), member of Council (1995-98), Secretary (1997-2002), President (2002-2004) and Scientific Committee Representative UEGF (2002 et seq); member of the World Council of the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association (1994-98); Treasurer and Council of European Digestive Surgery (1995 et seq); Committee member of the Pancreatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (1987-90) and President (1994-95); British Society of Gastroenterology Committee member of the Pancreatic Section (1988-91) and the Surgical Section (1991-93); and finally Committee member of the Surgical Research Society (1995-98).
Research positions include National Cancer Research Institute, Committee on Upper GI Cancer, Chairman for Pancreatic Cancer (1999 et seq ); UK Pancreatic Cancer Trials Group, Chairman (1991-95); European Study Group for Pancreatic Cancer (ESPAC), Co-secretary (1992 et seq ); National Institutes of Health (NIH) USA, NCI Pancreatic Cancer Progress Review Group (PRG) (2000); NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) for Pancreatic Cancer (2002-3); North West Regional Research and Development Biomedical Research Committee (2001-2); The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng), Advisor to Research Board (2001 et seq ); MRC-RCSEng Clinical Research Fellowships, Joint Panel, RCSEng representative (2001 et seq ); and also Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development Referee (2002).