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Major contribution to world-leading Centre for Cancer Immunology

Published: 
1 June 2015
Artist impression of the new centre

The generosity of a charitable trust, set up by Guernsey residents Jim Wilkinson and his late wife Peggy, will go a long way to helping the University of Southampton realise its goal of building a new world-leading research centre in cancer immunology and immunotherapy.

A £1 million gift has been given by the Wilkinson Charitable Trust in recognition of the University’s essential role in translating the work of researchers in the laboratory into direct treatments for people with cancer, including a number of patients who live in the Channel Islands but travel to Southampton for treatment. It is Jim’s hope that even more people from the Channel Islands and around the world will benefit from Southampton’s expertise and make further advances in cancers that traditionally have proved difficult to treat.

The gift will directly support the University’s campaign to create a new Centre for Cancer Immunology based at Southampton General Hospital. The new centre, the first of its kind in the UK, will build on the University’s global reputation for ground-breaking research in this area, enabling it to accelerate the development of immunotherapy treatments and deliver cures for cancer more effectively and quickly.

Southampton graduate and Senior Partner at Collas Crill in Guernsey, Chris Bound, brought the University’s research to the attention of the Trust.

“This generous gift from Jim Wilkinson and the Wilkinson Charitable Trust will help to further cement the long standing relationship between the Channel Islands and Southampton medical services in cancer research and treatment. This relationship allows many people from Guernsey and Jersey to benefit from treatment that is not available locally and is truly an invaluable resource for both islands,” he said.

 Amongst the patients who have travelled from the Channel Islands for cancer treatment in Southampton is 6 year-old Xano. Xano was diagnosed with advanced neuroblastoma in 2014, aged just 5. Neuroblastoma is an aggressive form of childhood cancer that develops from particular types of immature nerve cells called neuroblasts, often starting in the abdomen but spreading to other parts of the body. Children diagnosed at an advanced stage have a 40% chance of survival. Xano took part in an immunotherapy trial (known as anti-GD2), involving a series of injections and infusions over a five-month period. Just days after the trial stopped he felt better. Amazingly, he is now in complete remission, with test results on 17 September 2014 showing ‘no evidence of disease’.

For more than a decade, the University of Southampton has made a number of advances in tumour immunology and immunotherapy with a reputation for its ‘bench to bedside’ results. More and more evidence is showing that the body’s immune system has enormous potential to fight cancer and to extend peoples’ lives. Recent results from large clinical projects are giving real hope that researchers are entering a new era of cancer treatment. As many as half of Southampton’s patients with difficult and terminal cancers, including lung and skin cancer, are showing dramatic improvements with immunotherapy and an estimated 20% are now living cancer-free.

The new treatments come in the form of vaccines and antibodies designed to direct special immune cells against cancers. According to Professor Martin Glennie, Head of Cancer Sciences and Professor of Immunochemistry at the University, these cells are normally responsible for protecting the body from invasion by viruses such as measles and influenza. However, given the right education, these ‘killer’ immune cells can control and shrink cancer, providing long-lasting protection against the disease.

“For many years researchers in Southampton have led the way in this fight,” said Professor Glennie. “We were one of the first units to isolate antibodies and develop vaccines that trigger immunity against cancers of the prostate, colon and against leukaemia.

“We have been particularly successful at taking discoveries from the laboratory and offering them to patients in clinical trials,” Professor Glennie continued. “It has been a long wait, but this work is now paying dividends and shows the true potency of the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Our antibody discovery programme is already delivering new drugs to the clinic and with the new Centre, we can accelerate this process.”

To further maximise the potential for the new centre, the University is launching a public campaign to raise £25 million in total to build its new Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy. Thanks to significant gifts, including a lead gift from another Channel Islands resident, they are over halfway to their target and planning the Centre with confidence.

Professor Don Nutbeam, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton said: “We’re very grateful to Jim Wilkinson and his late wife Peggy and to our alumnus Chris Bound for enabling us to move closer to our goal of creating and developing this new centre for cancer immunology research. The next few years will see great progress in immune therapies for cancer, with the University of Southampton at the very forefront of discovery.”

To find out more about the campaign and how you can support it, please visit www.southampton.ac.uk/youreit

 

 

 

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