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Vaccine doubles brain tumour survival rate in medical breakthrough

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/11/2022 Sarah Knapton
Brain scan © Provided by The Telegraph Brain scan

A brain tumour vaccine doubles the five-year survival rate for cancer patients, a trial has shown, in the first major breakthrough for decades.

Researchers at King’s College Hospital in London showed that 13 per cent of vaccine patients with the most aggressive form of glioblastoma were still alive after five years, compared with just 5.7 per cent in the control group. One patient survived for eight years.

It is the first time in 17 years there has been a significant improvement for newly diagnosed glioblastoma, and the first time in 27 years that any treatment has been shown to extend survival in recurrent glioblastoma.  

Patients with a new glioblastoma diagnosis who were treated with the vaccine survived 19.3 months on average from randomisation, compared to 16.5 months for the control group.

Patients with recurrent glioblastoma who were treated with the vaccine survived 13.2 months on average, compared to 7.8 months for the control group.  

‘Very promising approach for treating cancer’

Keyoumars Ashkan, professor of neurosurgery at King’s College Hospital, and European chief investigator of the clinical trial, said: “Immunotherapy is a very promising approach for treating cancer, and the final results of this phase three trial, now unblinded and published, offer fresh hope to patients battling with glioblastoma.  

“The vaccine was shown to prolong life, and interestingly so in patients traditionally considered to have a poorer prognosis.

“For example, we see clear benefits in the older patient groups as well as in those patients in whom radical surgery was not possible for technical or other reasons.”

The treatment works by harnessing the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, helping the body recognise and attack cancer cells.

The vaccine is created for each patient individually by isolating specific immune cells, known as dendritic cells, from their blood.

Dendritic immune cells work by capturing harmful invaders and presenting them to other immune cells so they can be destroyed.

Once the dendritic cells are removed from the body they are mixed with biomarkers from the patient’s tumour. When the vaccine containing the cells is injected back into the patient, it shares that information with the immune system, which goes on to attack the tumour.

Vaccine trialled for 8 years 

The vaccine was trialled for eight years and involved more than 300 patients from the UK, the US, Canada and Germany - all of whom had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumour in adults.

The vaccine group was given the new treatment, the standard treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, while the control group just had the standard treatment alone.

Nigel French, 53, a King’s patient from Whitstable in Kent, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2015 after suffering a nocturnal seizure. Having been referred to King’s for surgery, he was offered enrolment in the vaccine trial, to which he agreed. Seven years later, he is still in remission and is thankful to have had the opportunity to trial the vaccine.  

Mr French said: “I’m very grateful to the team at King’s for offering me this lifeline. Although I can’t be certain as to whether I received the vaccine or the placebo, I believe the treatment I received, along with remaining positive, saved my life.”    

The team are now keen to trial the vaccine with other types of brain tumours and combinations of drugs.

Professor Ashkan added: “I am optimistic we can build upon this going forward.

“Applying the same technology to develop treatments for other forms of brain tumours will be the natural next step.”

The results were published in the Journal of American Medical Association Oncology.  

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