Scientists begin patient trials of DNA vaccine for cancer

Published: 3-Feb-2011

Researchers hope to recruit 180 patients to the two-year trial

A new cancer treatment, which strengthens a patient's immune system, is being trialled on patients for the first time in the UK.

The treatment will use a new DNA vaccine, developed by scientists from the University of Southampton, to treat a selected group of volunteers who have either chronic or acute myeloid leukaemia – two forms of bone marrow and blood cancer.

Scientists believe they can control myeloid leukaemia by vaccinating patients against a cancer-associated gene (Wilm's Tumour gene 1), found ‘expressed’ in almost all chronic and acute leukaemias.

A team of researchers and health practitioners, led by Professor Christian Ottensmeier of the University of Southampton Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and Dr Katy Rezvani of Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, hope to recruit up to 180 patients to the trial which will take place at hospitals in Southampton, London and Exeter over the next two years.

The charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) programme will fund the research.

‘Current treatment can reduce the cancer but the drug needs to be taken indefinitely and has unpleasant side effects,’ said Ottensmeier. ‘Prognosis of acute myeloid leukaemia is currently poor and better treatments are urgently needed.’

He added: ‘We have already demonstrated that this new type of DNA vaccine is safe and can successfully activate the immune systems in patients with cancer of the prostate, bowel and lung. We believe it will prove to be beneficial to patients with acute and chronic myeloid leukaemia.’

Each participant in the Phase II trial will receive six doses of DNA vaccine over a six-month period, with further booster vaccinations if successful.

The vaccine will be administered using the ELGEN 1000 automated device developed by US pharmaceutical company Inovio, which is based on its proprietary electroporation delivery platform. With this system, controlled, rapid electrical pulses increase permeability in cell membranes and dramatically improve cellular uptake of the vaccine.

Inovio's chief executive Joseph Kim said: ‘This leukaemia study moves our first fully automated injection-electroporation delivery product into human studies. It could further validate the ability of Inovio's DNA vaccines and delivery platform to generate clinically relevant immune responses and effects.’

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