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Southampton Clinical Trials Unit to run ground-breaking NHS cancer vaccine programme

Published: 31 May 2024
Someone having an injection

The Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, based at the University of Southampton, has been chosen to run a new NHS England programme accelerating research into potentially ground-breaking cancer treatments.

The Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad (CVLP) aims to improve patient access to clinical trials which test new immunotherapies by speeding up the development of personalised cancer vaccines.

It’s hoped thousands of patients at hospitals across England will be recruited to these trials, with University Hospital Southampton one of the first to open to the programme.

Personalised Cancer Vaccines

Personalised cancer vaccines are a type of immunotherapy, a treatment that boosts the body’s own immune system to help it find and destroy cancer. They are created by analysing a patient's tumour and using that information to create a vaccine tailored to that patient.

These vaccines aim to create an immune ‘memory’ that can prevent a cancer from returning after surgery or chemotherapy.

“Cancer vaccines have the potential to improve the way we treat the disease, particularly for those cancers where treatment options are currently limited or very demanding on patients’ bodies,” says Professor Gareth Griffiths, Director of the Cancer Research UK Southampton Clinical Trial Unit at the University of Southampton’s Centre for Cancer Immunology. “Although there have been some trials of cancer vaccines in the past, there are a new generation of vaccines that that are personalised to individual biological features of a patient’s disease. We are delighted to have been chosen to run the national platform which will bring together a number of vaccine trials so that patients can access these trials more easily, improving our research knowledge and hopefully leading to improved treatment outcomes for patients.”

The NHS Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad

Trials available through the NHS Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad will each be testing a new investigational cancer vaccine.

“Patients with early or late-stage cancer who are receiving cancer treatment on the NHS will be able to have tumour samples sent to the laboratories for analysis,” says Dr Victoria Goss, Head of Early Diagnosis and Translational Research at the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit. “If their cancer contains mutations that may be suitable for use in a personalised cancer vaccine, then they may be eligible to enter screening for one of the vaccine trials.”

The first trial available through the CVLP is testing a vaccine under development by biotech company BioNTech SE.

Dr Goss continues: “This initial trial is only for patients with a particular type of colorectal cancer, as that is what the vaccine is targeting. But as the programme expands, more vaccines targeting other cancer types will be brought on board, giving more patients the opportunity to take part.”

The Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU) is a world-leading Cancer Research UK trials unit with expertise in running complex cancer immunotherapy trials, as well as coordinating large-scale platform trials.

“Based within the Centre for Cancer Immunology we have a history of undertaking cancer trials in many types of immunotherapies, including cancer vaccines,” says SCTU Clinical Director, Professor Simon Crabb. “The Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad will bring together different academic and industry partners who are developing cancer vaccines and allow patients across England to access trials of treatments that may not have previously been an option for them.”

Being part of a cancer vaccine trial

Ali Richards, 63, took part in a previous cancer vaccine trial run by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit after her head and neck cancer returned following initial treatment.

“After diagnosis in 2016, I had radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment,” recalls Ali. “The treatment was really brutal and left me struggling to swallow and needing to be fed through a tube in my stomach. Unfortunately, it was not completely successful and in 2017 I had surgery to remove some lymph nodes in my neck which set my recovery back again.”

Following this treatment, Ali was invited to take part in a clinical trial of an investigational cancer vaccine at University Hospital Southampton.

“My oncologist’s reason for suggesting the trial was that it could possibly help my immunity going forward and help protect me. For me, I wanted to do it because I thought if it could help other people not to go through what I’d just been through, if there was potentially something that was going to be curative or improve their immunity in some way, then wouldn’t that be brilliant. It was my way of trying to give back after all the treatment and care I’d had.”

Ali, who lives in Poole in Dorset, is now welcoming the launch of the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad and hopes it will mean more people can access trials of these promising new treatments.

“It’s really important that we accelerate progress in cancer vaccine trials. Traditional treatments are not kind by their nature, and anything that can make treatment more simple, more effective, less invasive, has got to be a good thing.

“Cancer is awful, any kind of cancer. Living with the fear that cancer might come back is not nice. If we could free people from that worry and concern, that would be an amazing thing to happen.”

Looking to the future

The first trial available through the NHS Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad is now recruiting patients with colorectal cancer at a number of hospitals across England.

“Over the coming months, more hospital sites will join the CVLP platform allowing many more patients to access to investigational cancer vaccines trials,” says Dr Victoria Goss. “NHS England, along with our SCTU team, is now working with BioNTech and other industry partners who have developed vaccines for different cancer types, and which are ready to come in to the CVLP, so that we can make these an option for eligible patients as quickly as possible.”

Professor Griffiths concludes: “Research and clinical trials are essential for improving how we treat cancer and helping to improve outcomes for patients. By bringing together the most innovative immunotherapies and personalised treatment trials through the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad we hope to facilitate more patient access to these clinical trials and ultimately accelerate the progress in cancer treatments.”

Notes for editors

For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact Liz Allaway, Communications Manager, Southampton Clinical Trials Unit – .

Notes to editors

The Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU) is a Cancer Research UK (CRUK) core-funded CTU with expertise in the design, conduct and analysis of interventional, multi-centre clinical trials. The CTU is based within the University of Southampton with offices at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust Southampton General Hospital site. The unit is part of the NIHR Research Support Service University of Southampton Hub and partners in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. For more information, visit the SCTU website .

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