£1.7 million for vaccine to prevent lung cancer

Work to develop the world’s first vaccine to prevent lung cancer will be carried out by scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and the Francis Crick Institute, following a grant of up to £1.7 million from Cancer Research UK and the CRIS Cancer Foundation.

The ’LungVax’ vaccine uses technology similar to the highly successful Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The team will receive funding for the study over the next two years to support lab research and initial manufacturing of 3,000 doses of the vaccine at the Oxford Clinical BioManufacturing Facility.

There are around 48,500 cases of lung cancer every year in the UK. 72% of lung cancers are caused by smoking, which is the biggest preventable cause of cancer worldwide.

Lung cancer cells look different from normal cells due to having ’red flag’ proteins called neoantigens. Neoantigens appear on the surface of the cell because of cancer-causing mutations within the cell’s DNA.

Kidani Professor of Immuno-oncology at the University of Oxford and research lead for the LungVax project, Professor Tim Elliott, said: "Cancer is a disease of our own bodies and it’s hard for the immune system to distinguish between what’s normal and what’s cancer. Getting the immune system to recognise and attack cancer is one of the biggest challenges in cancer research today.

"This research could deliver an off-the-shelf vaccine based on Oxford’s vaccine technology, which proved itself in the COVID-19 pandemic. If we can replicate the kind of success seen in trials during the pandemic, we could save the lives of tens of thousands of people every year in the UK alone."

The LungVax vaccine will carry a strand of DNA that trains the immune system to recognise these neoantigens on abnormal lung cells. The LungVax vaccine will then activate the immune system to kill these cells and stop lung cancer.

With this funding, the research team will test the vaccine in the lab to show that it successfully triggers an immune response. If this work is successful, the vaccine will move straight into a clinical trial and if it delivers promising results the vaccine could be scaled up to bigger trials for people at high risk of lung cancer. This could include people aged 55-74 who are current smokers, or have previously smoked, and currently qualify for targeted lung health checks in some parts of the UK.

Professor Mariam Jamal-Hanjani of the UCL Cancer Institute and the Francis Crick Institute, who will lead the LungVax clinical trial, said: "Fewer than 10% of people with lung cancer survive their disease for 10 years or more. That must change. This research complements existing efforts through lung health checks to detect lung cancer earlier in people who are at greatest risk.

"We think the vaccine could cover around 90% of all lung cancers, based on our computer models and previous research, and this funding will allow us to take the vital first steps towards trials in patients.

"LungVax will not replace stopping smoking as the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer. But it could offer a viable route to preventing some of the earliest stage cancers from emerging in the first place."

Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, Michelle Mitchell, said: "The science that successfully steered the world out of the pandemic could soon be guiding us toward a future where people can live longer, better lives free from the fear of cancer. Projects like LungVax are a really important step forward into an exciting future, where cancer is much more preventable. We’re in a golden age of research and this is one of many projects which we hope will transform lung cancer survival."


Dr Matt Midgley

E: m.midgley [at] ucl.ac.uk
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