A team of researchers from Middlesex University have developed a vaccine approach which could be the first of a whole new generation of cancer drugs with the potential to target specific cancers at source. This technique could lead to far quicker treatment of aggressive cancers, with patients experiencing fewer of the side-effects which chemotherapy often causes.
World expert in biomedical science, Professor Ray Iles, and colleagues at Middlesex University’s Centre for Investigative and Diagnostic Oncology, are currently working with US pharmaceutical company, Celldex Therapeutics, to test the vaccine in clinical trials involving patients who have recently been diagnosed with bladder cancer. Initial results suggest that the lives and prognoses for thousands of cancer sufferers may improve radically and it is thought that the technique could ultimately delay the onset of certain types of cancer.
Bladder cancer affects four times as many men as women, with 10,000 new cases being diagnosed in the UK each year. It is the fourth most common cancer in men and is the sixth most common cause of cancer death amongst men in the UK. At present, 75% of cases are lethal. The vaccine will be trialled over a five year period, amongst a group of 60 newly-diagnosed patients with the cancer.
For Professor Iles, this is a real highpoint in a twenty-year research career in biomedical science. In 1987 he discovered that certain cancers, including bladder cancer, produce a fragment of the pregnancy hormone hCGβ – known in the science world as ‘HCG’ - which encourages aggressive activity by cancerous cells. Since then, a series of studies have been conducted by Professor Iles and Dr Stephen Butler, another member of the Middlesex team, culminating in the development of the vaccine by Celldex. The vaccine targets and neutralises the cells producing this hormone, before these cells have the chance to attack other, healthy cells.
Professor Iles said: “The vaccine has the potential to help us make rapid advances in the treatment of this invasive cancer. It appears to block cancer-activating hormones, which in turn reduces the growth of tumours in distant organs – secondary cancers known as metastases. The same molecule occurs in both cervical and pancreatic cancers, and so in time, this type of vaccine could offer treatment benefits across a range of other highly invasive cancers too”.
Professor Iles’ team will act as consultants to Celldex, giving advice on the selection of patients for the trial, offering technical knowledge and reviewing trial results. Professor Iles will continue his research into molecular mechanisms, which he believes will lead to better design of cancer drugs. He said: “We’re working to fine-tune and optimise the formulae we’ve pioneered, in order to create more targeted treatment regimes and we are currently seeking funds to bring these trials to the UK”.
Professor Waqar Ahmad, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise at Middlesex University, said: “This is a major achievement for a relatively small department and we look forward to seeing this important work led to improvements in the future treatment of many different types of cancers. This is a good example of the impact that Middlesex University’s research has on our society. The University places a very high value on this type research, which is both pioneering and practical, and we are very proud to be investing in such programmes”.
Other research areas which Professor Iles’ research has encompassed include improving techniques to identify and analyse cancerous cells (cancer biomarkers), systems for early detection of ectopic pregnancy and Downs Syndrome screening. A number of foundations have supported his research, including the Lee Smith Foundation, which has also funded a dedicated laboratory for molecular biology, based in Middlesex University’s Hatchcroft research building.
The trial involves a group of newly-diagnosed bladder cancer patients, who will receive the vaccine and be monitored at regular intervals over a five-year period. The trial is being conducted in partnership with US pharmaceutical company Celldex Therapeutics.
Middlesex University’s Cancer Research is conducted at the Centre for Investigative and Diagnostic Oncology (CIDO) which is housed in the Hatchcroft building at Middlesex’s flagship Hendon campus, north London. The Centre’s work focuses on the diagnosis and development of treatments for a range of common cancers.