Technology used in AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine undergoing cancer trials

After tests on mice show an increase in the number of anti-tumour cells, the University of Oxford team will soon begin trials on people

The technology used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is being used to design a different vaccine that could help treat cancer, scientists say. AP Photo
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The technology behind the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination is being tested as a possible vaccine against cancer with the launch of human trials of the research.

The development of a two-dose “cancer vaccine” that targets tumours in people comes after successful test results in mice showed an increase in the number of anti-tumour cells attacking cancerous growths. Survival rates also increased when coupled with other anti-cancer therapy.

Later this year, the first human trials will take place involving 80 patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

The study, which was done by Prof Benoit van den Eynde's group at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, in collaboration with co-authors Prof Adrian Hill and Dr Irina Redchenko at the Jenner Institute, is published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer.

The Oxford team behind the study said it would revolutionise cancer treatment.

"We knew from our previous research that melanoma antigen gene-type proteins act like red flags on the surface of cancer cells to attract immune cells that destroy tumours,” said Prof Eynde, professor of tumour immunology at the University of Oxford.

These "proteins have an advantage over other cancer antigens as vaccine targets since they are present on a wide range of tumour types", Prof Eynde said. "This broadens the potential benefit of this approach to people with many different types of cancer."

Prof Benoit van den Eynde specialises in tumour immunology at the University of Oxford and is leading the team's development of a new cancer vaccine. Photo: Monty Rakusen for Ludwig Cancer Research

Working in similar ways to the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 inoculation, the cancer vaccine uses the same technology to transport a piece of genetic code into a person’s cells through a harmless virus.

In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, the recipient’s cells make replicas of spike proteins that train the immune system to fight off the real virus.

This new two-shot cancer vaccine also uses a harmless virus as a vector to carry a genetic code that makes the body respond and mobilise against the proteins on the surface of cancer cells.

Updated: September 03, 2021, 11:09 AM