Covid vaccine research now helping cancer patients – BBC News

  • By Gill Dummigan
  • Health Correspondent, BBC North West


Adrian Taylor was told his cancer was incurable

Ten months ago, Adrian Taylor was told he had incurable cancer and there were few treatment options left.

Despite several grueling months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, her tonsil cancer had spread to her lungs and was growing rapidly.

“This is devastating news for anyone and I was 53 at the time,” he said.

“You think ‘I’m just starting to live – I have small children and what will they do without me? What will my wife do?’ It’s scary.”

Mr Taylor, from Wirral, was speaking with me at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, where he is now involved in what many hope will be the start of a revolution in cancer treatment.

Over the last few months he has been participating in clinical trials which have relied heavily on the pioneering work being done during the race to find a Covid vaccine.

“I have nothing to lose,” he said. “There’s a 100% chance I’ll die without treatment so I’m understanding everything I can and just saying get me down for everything.”

Two Liverpool hospitals are helping to lead the way in this new field of medicine, and early results are promising.

Mr Taylor comes to the center’s clinical trials unit every two weeks and, along with other treatments, receives the vaccine.

image source, Getty’s image


Some of the world’s first cancer vaccine clinical trials are being conducted in Liverpool

It uses the same mRNA technology as most Covid vaccines and operates on the same principle – training the body to fight and destroy dangerous diseases.

It’s safe to say that without the pandemic these trials would probably not exist – the huge concentration of money and efforts to find a Covid vaccine also accelerated progress massively in this cutting-edge field.

“This technology takes advantage of defects in cancer cells and creates a personalized vaccine for the individual,” said the medical director of the center Dr Sheena Khanduri.

“This is very exciting and really represents a paradigm shift in the knowledge we have about how cancer vaccines work.”

Clatterbridge – working in partnership with the Royal Liverpool Hospital next door, together with the University of Liverpool – is running clinical trials of the world’s first cancer vaccine.

‘Personal medicine’

At Royal Liverpool, scientists are preparing to start another trial, using an mRNA vaccine after colon cancer surgery.

The tumor is removed by a surgeon and then analyzed in a laboratory.

“We look at the genetic code for a cancer and then we make a vaccine specifically for that patient so that the vaccine targets the individual cancer,” explains consultant liver surgeon Rob Jones.

“This is the best personal medicine.”

Mr Jones and his team are leading a national trial involving nine other hospital trusts.

“The big advantage of vaccines is that they can be shipped anywhere,” said Mr Jones. “You will get the flu or the Covid vaccine given at the general practitioner’s office or the school hall.

“With a cancer vaccine, the exact same thing can happen. It goes in, it injects, it goes out. And it can be rolled out across the country.”

‘last chance saloon’

Many researchers think vaccines will revolutionize cancer treatment in the near future.

But in the here and now nearly every NHS trust is struggling to reduce coverage for cancer care caused by the same pandemic that helped accelerate research programmes.

“It’s challenging,” admitted Mr Jones. “We have to work differently to try and make the situation better. We have adopted a different strategy. We have tried to operate in different hospitals and different places.

“The big emphasis is on things like waiting time for scans and access to other therapies we need to help carry out the operation.”

Back in Clatterbridge, Mr Taylor had completed his last treatment session. He has good news.

Recent scans revealed that her tumor, which had grown rapidly, had shrunk dramatically.

“I think they were amazed by the progress, seeing that the initial hope was that the cancer would go away — it wouldn’t spread, it wouldn’t grow,” she told me.

“It saved my life basically, there is hope now. The trials were kind of a last chance salon for me.

“The future is positive now. It is.”

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