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NHS trials personalised cancer vaccines

Thousands of cancer patients in England are set to gain fast-tracked access to trials of personalised cancer vaccines, following the launch of a world-leading NHS ‘matchmaking’ service to help find new life-saving treatments.

The NHS has already treated its first patient, Elliot Phebve, in England, with a personalised vaccine against his bowel cancer, as part of NHS England’s new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad. Elliot received the developmental vaccine at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, one of several sites taking part in the colorectal cancer vaccine trial sponsored by BioNTech SE.

The German biotechnology company has presented new preliminary data at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago on how measuring circulating tumour DNA could potentially help early detection of colorectal cancer.

The vaccine trial is one of several that will be taking place in NHS trusts across the country to treat different types of cancer. Thousands more patients are expected to benefit from NHS England’s new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad, which will enable those wanting to participate in clinical trials to be fast-tracked to one of the nearest participating hospitals.

Patients who agree to take part have a sample of their cancer tissue and a blood test taken. If they meet a clinical trial’s eligibility criteria, they can be referred to their nearest participating NHS site, meaning patients from hospitals across the country will find it easier than ever to take part in ground breaking research.

The investigational cancer vaccines evaluated in the colorectal cancer trial are based on mRNA – the same technology used for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine – and are created by analysing a patient’s tumour to identify mutations specific to their own cancer. Using this information, medics then create an experimental individualised cancer vaccine.

The developmental vaccines are designed to induce an immune response that may prevent cancer from returning after surgery on the primary tumour, by stimulating the patient’s immune system to specifically recognise and potentially destroy any remaining cancer cells.

The investigational cancer vaccines, being jointly developed by biopharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, are still undergoing trials and have not yet been approved by regulators.

Thirty hospitals in England are already signed up to the pioneering Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad – one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world – with more sites joining the platform over the coming months.

The scheme aims to expand and work with a range of partners in the pharmaceutical industry to include patients across many cancer types who could potentially join a vaccine trial, such as those with pancreatic and lung cancer.

Trials have already enlisted dozens of patients, although the majority of participants are expected to be enrolled from 2026 onwards.

Last year, the Government signed an agreement with BioNTech to provide up to 10,000 patients with precision cancer immunotherapies by 2030.
BioNTech has already begun conducting clinical trials in the UK, and the NHS launch pad is helping to accelerate the identification of eligible patients for those trials in England.

The vaccines being tested as part of the trials aim to help patients with different types of cancer and, if successfully developed, researched and approved, cancer vaccines could become part of standard care.

The NHS is working in partnership with Genomics England on the launch pad, with work already helping patients access the latest testing technologies and ensures they are given more targeted precision treatments for their cancer.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “Seeing Elliot receive his first treatment as part of the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad is a landmark moment for patients and the health service as we seek to develop better and more effective ways to stop this disease. 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.”

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Joanna Harvey
Joanna Harvey
Marketing and Communication Executive | Uniphar Commercial

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