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Lung cancer vaccine enters large-scale clinical trial

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by Cancer Research UK | News

11 January 2007

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A new treatment for the most common form of lung cancer, developed from initial research by Cancer Research UK scientists, has entered a pivotal phase III clinical trial.

The drug, called Stimuvax, is a type of therapeutic vaccine that targets a specific protein found in many tumours, including non-small cell lung cancer. It was developed by Canadian biotech company Biomira following Cancer Research UK-funded studies led by Professor Joyce Taylor-Papadimitriou of Guy’s Hospital, London. Biomira have already run phase II trials with very encouraging results.

The international phase III trial, named START (Stimulating Targeted Antigenic Responses To NSCLC), is expected to enrol its first patient this month. Run by pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA, it will eventually include more than 1,300 lung cancer patients in 30 countries, including the UK.

Therapeutic vaccines are a relatively new development in cancer treatment. Unlike preventative vaccines, they are treatments that induce the body’s own immune system to identify and kill existing cancer cells. Stimuvax is designed to stimulate the immune system to recognise and react to a molecule called MUC1, which is much more abundant on tumour cells than healthy cells. The immune system then kills the cancer cells with MUC1, hopefully without overly harming healthy cells.

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT), Cancer Research UK’s development and commercialisation company, licensed a number of discoveries to Biomira, which led to the development of Stimuvax for advanced non small cell lung cancer. Merck KGaA also plans to investigate the use of Stimuvax for other types of cancer.

Dr Keith Blundy, chief operating officer of CRT, said: “We are extremely pleased that Stimuvax has entered the final stage of clinical trials. The drug is one of CRT’s portfolio of more than 20 partnered agents in clinical development. Targeted vaccines are an exciting approach that could potentially offer new treatment options for major types of cancer.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of CRT and chief operating officer of Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re delighted that another drug based on Cancer Research UK-funded basic research has reached the final stage of clinical development. The ‘translation’ of basic research into patient benefit is the major focus of our work and we hope that new ventures, such as the expansion of our drug discovery activities across the country, will lead to many more such drugs entering trials in the future.”


For media enquiries please contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.