Leukaemia vaccine being developed

Leukaemia vaccine being developed
05 Jan 2010, PR 03/10

Scientists at King's have developed a vaccine treatment for Leukaemia that can be used to stop the disease returning after chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant. The vaccine is due to be tested on patients for the first time. Eventually it is hoped the drug, which activates the body's own immune system against the leukaemia, could be used to treat other types of cancers.

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow affects around 7,200 patients a year. Around 4,300 die from the disease annually. Treatment comes in two stages - chemotherapy to rid the body of the disease, then to prevent it returning either further chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant. Latest survival rates show that more than half the people with leukaemia die within five years of diagnosis.

The first patients to be treated as part of the clinical trial at King's College Hospital, have the form of the disease known as Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), the most common form in adults. Even with aggressive treatment half would usually find the disease returns. In the initial stages of the trial patients will be enrolled in the trial if they have had chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. If early trials are successful the vaccine may be tested in patients who cannot have a bone marrow transplant because they are unsuitable or a match cannot be found.

The study, led by Professors Ghulam Mufti and Farzin Farzaneh and Dr Nicola Hardwick, has involved intricate work to develop a man-made virus, which carries the two genes into the immune system.

Farzin Farzaneh, Professor of Molecular Medicine, in the Department of Haemato-oncology at the College, said if the trials are successful then the vaccine could be "rolled out" to treat other leukaemias and cancers. ‘It is the same concept as normal vaccines. The immune system is made to see something as foreign and can then destroy it itself. This has the chance to be curative.'

Cancer ‘vaccines'

The idea behind cancer 'vaccines' is not necessarily to prevent the disease. Instead, once a patient has been diagnosed, the 'vaccine' programmes the immune system to hunt down cancer cells and destroy them. The vaccine then prompts the immune system to recognise leukaemia cells if they return which prevents a relapse of the disease. The vaccine is created by removing cells from the patient's blood and manipulating them in the laboratory.

The cells are given two genes which act as flags to help identify the leukaemia. It effectively focuses and boosts the immune system's ability to seek out and destroy cancer cells. The research is due to be published in the Journal of Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy shortly.

The study follows successful experiments on experimental tumour models showing that injection with the gene modified tumour cells results in the induction of immune mediated tumour rejection.

The work, which has taken 20 years to develop, has more recently been funded by the Department of Health and various charities including: Cancer Research UK, the Leukaemia Research Fund (LRF) and the Elimination of Leukaemia Fund (ELF).

The research was carried out at King's College London's Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), which is one of 17 new centres across the country launched to develop basic science into treatments for patients as quickly as possible.

King's Health Partners members King's College London and King's College Hospital are jointly sponsoring this groundbreaking research.


Notes to editors

King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.


Further information
Kate Moore, Public Realtions Officer (Health Schools)
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