Our researchers have developed a pioneering new DNA vaccine that could revolutionise the way cancer - particularly leukaemia - is treated in the future.
Leukaemia is a malignant disease of the bone marrow and blood that causes around 220,000 deaths worldwide each year. The new vaccine aims to tackle this disease head on by strengthening a person's immune system against a gene (known as Wilm's Tumour gene 1) that is present in almost all forms of leukaemia.
The DNA vaccine is now being trialled, for the first time in the UK, at centres in Southampton, London and Exeter. The trial is being co-ordinated nationally by the University of Southampton Clinical Trials Unit. Over the next two years a selected group of volunteers with either chronic or acute myeloid leukaemia will receive the vaccine.
The volunteers will be treated in a groundbreaking new way. A new technique called electroporation will be used that delivers controlled, rapid electrical pulses to make cell membranes more permeable or 'leaky' so that they can absorb the vaccine injected into muscle or skin tissue more easily.
Professor Christian Ottensmeier, Director of Southampton's Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, who co-led the study with researchers from Imperial College London, explains: "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."
The research is funded by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme, which is financed by the Medical Research Council and managed by the National Institute for Health Research. The electroporation technique was developed by the US pharmaceutical company Inovio. UoSCTU receives core funding from Cancer Research UK and CTU support funding from the NIHR.
Footnote: Key collaborators, Dr. Katy Rezvani, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust Dr. Paul Kerr, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.