Scientists are making a ‘groundbreaking’ lung cancer vaccine that could prevent up to 90% of cases

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Scientists are developing a ‘groundbreaking’ lung cancer vaccine which research suggests will be effective in preventing up to 90 per cent of cases.

The jab — which will be given to those at highest risk of developing the disease — will train the immune system to spot and attack early signs of disease.

Experts described it as a ‘crucial moment’ in the fight against the devastating disease, which affects 48,500 in the UK every year.

Known as ‘LungVax’, it is being created by the University of Oxford, the Francis Crick Institute and University College London.

Lung cancer cells look different from normal cells due to having ‘red flag’ proteins called neoantigens.

The jab — which will be given to those at highest risk of developing the disease — will train the immune system to spot and attack early signs of disease. Experts described it as a ‘crucial moment’ in the fight against the devastating disease, which affects 48,500 in the UK every year

Neoantigens appear on the surface of the cell because of cancer-causing mutations within the cell’s DNA.

The LungVax vaccine will carry a strand of DNA which trains the immune system to recognise these neoantigens on abnormal lung cells.

It will then activate the immune system to kill these cells and stop lung cancer.

Professor Tim Eilliot, lead researcher at the University of Oxford, 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 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.’

Researchers have been granted up to £1.7 million from Cancer Research UK and the CRIS Cancer Foundation.

The team will receive funding for the study over the next 2 years to support lab research and initial manufacturing of 3,000 doses of the vaccine at the Oxford Clinical BioManufacturing Facility.

Symptoms of lung cancer are often not noticeable until the cancer has spread through the lungs, to other parts of the body

Symptoms of lung cancer are often not noticeable until the cancer has spread through the lungs, to other parts of the body

While the level of progress for cancer survival for some forms of the disease has been rapid, such as for breast and prostate cancers, others, like those for lung and pancreas have only improved at a snail's pace

While the level of progress for cancer survival for some forms of the disease has been rapid, such as for breast and prostate cancers, others, like those for lung and pancreas have only improved at a snail’s pace

If successful, the vaccine will move straight into a clinical trials, involving those at biggest risk of disease, such as current and former smokers who currently qualify for targeted lung health checks in some parts of the UK.

Fewer than 10 per cent of people with lung cancer survive their disease for 10 years or more.

Professor Mariam Jamal-Hanjani of University College London and the Francis Crick Institute, said: ‘We think the vaccine could cover around 90 per cent 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.’

Lola Manterola, President of CRIS Cancer Foundation, said: ‘We are at a crucial moment in the history of cancer research and treatment. 

‘For the first time, technology and knowledge of the immune system are allowing us to take the first steps towards preventing cancer.

‘This groundbreaking study represents a firm step in that direction, and we at CRIS consider it essential to support it.’

WHAT IS LUNG CANCER?

Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer. 

Around 47,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.

There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

– a persistent cough

– coughing up blood

– persistent breathlessness

– unexplained tiredness and weight loss

– an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

You should see a GP if you have these symptoms.

Types of lung cancer 

There are two main forms of primary lung cancer. 

These are classified by the type of cells in which the cancer starts growing. 

They are:

– Non-small-cell lung cancer. The most common form, accounting for more than 87 per cent of cases. 

– It can be one of three types: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma.

– Small-cell lung cancer – a less common form that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer.

– The type of lung cancer you have determines which treatments are recommended.

Who’s affected

Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It’s rare in people younger than 40. 

More than four out of 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK are aged 75 and older.

Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the most common cause (accounting for about 72 per cent of cases). 

This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.

Treating lung cancer

Treatment depends on the type of mutation the cancer has, how far it’s spread and how good your general health is.

If the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, surgery to remove the affected area of lung may be recommended.

If surgery is unsuitable due to your general health, radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells may be recommended instead.

If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually used.

There are also a number of medicines known as targeted therapies. 

They target a specific change in or around the cancer cells that is helping them to grow. 

Targeted therapies cannot cure lung cancer but they can slow its spread.

Source: NHS 

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