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Lung cancer vaccine starts UK phase III trial

A new treatment for the commonest form of lung cancer, developed from initial research by Cancer Research scientists, has entered phase III trials

A new treatment for the commonest form of lung cancer, developed from initial research by Cancer Research scientists, has entered phase III trials.

Stimuvax is a therapeutic vaccine, which targets a protein found in many tumours, including non-small cell lung cancer, was developed by Canadian biotech company, Biomira. Cancer Research UK has funded studies led by Professor Joyce Taylor-Papdimitriou of Guy's Hospital in London.

Biomira have already run phase II trials with positive results. The international phase III START (stimulating targeted antigenic Responses to NSCLC) trial is now enrolling its first patient. German pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA is running the experiment, which will eventually include more than 1,300 lung cancer patients in 30 countries, including the UK.

The START trial will compare Stimuvax to a placebo. The primary outcome of the trail is to compare survival duration of all randomized subjects by treatment arm. The secondary outcomes are to compare all randomized subjects by treatment arm for time to symptom progression (TTSP), as measured by the Lung Cancer Symptom Scale (LCSS); time to progression (TTP) as determined by the investigator; one-, two- and three-year survival; and safety.

Therapeutic vaccines 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 response then kills the MUC1-flagged cancer cells hopefully without harming healthy cells.

Cancer Research Technology (CRT), Cancer Research UK's development and commercialisation company, has 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, COO of CRT, said: "Stimuvax 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, CEO of CRT, added: "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."

According to a BCC Research report published in March 2005, the total worldwide market for therapeutic vaccines is expected to top USD 4 billion (GBP 2 billion/ EUR 3.1 billion) in 2010. The market and growth for these vaccines will follow that of innovative prescription pharmaceuticals rather than prophylactic vaccines. BCC expects the US will be the primary market, followed closely by Europe and Japan.

24th January 2007

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