A British woman has become one of the first cancer patients to be injected with a new vaccine designed to stimulate the immune system so that it destroys tumours wherever they have spread in the body.
Kelly Potter, 35, was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in July 2015 and was among the first to be enrolled on a cancer vaccine trial that will run over the next two years involving up to 30 volunteers.
Medical researchers have designed the vaccine to encourage the immune system to react against a part of the cancer cell that allows it to continuously replicate without ever dying.
At the same time, the patients on the trial will be prescribed a chemotherapy drug that should, at low doses, “lift the brakes” on the immune system so that it is no longer prevented from attacking the body’s own cancer cells, scientists said.
Potter, who lives in Beckenham, Kent, was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer and was eligible for the trial at Guy’s Hospital in London because the disease had spread to other parts of her body. “Although I had excellent treatment at Guy’s where the cancer was stabilised, it had already spread to spots on my liver and lungs. So when I was told that I may be eligible for this trial, I was delighted,” she said.
“To be part of this trial has changed my life for the better. It’s been a very positive experience and really interesting. I feel honoured to be involved… it’s fantastic to be part of something that could be groundbreaking.”
Potter was injected with the vaccine on February 9 and has another seven visits to the hospital to complete the treatment. Doctors have warned her that she may experience flu-like symptoms, although none has appeared to far.
“My hope for the future is to beat the cancer for as long as I can, and if I can’t, I have come to terms with that. I would like to go on and inspire others with cancer,” she said.
The vaccine contains a small fragment of protein from an enzyme called human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), which allows cancer cells to divide continuously. It is hoped that by injecting this antigen into the bloodstream, it will stimulate the immune system to make antibodies that attack cancer cells but leave normal, healthy cells untouched, scientists said.
“We know that the immune system in patients with advanced cancer is suppressed, so it’s unable to recognise and kill cancer cells,” said Professor Hardev Pandha, principal investigator on the trial from Surrey University in Guildford. “In this trial we are investigating a form of immunotherapy designed to activate the body’s immune system by administration of a vaccine based on fragments to a key cancer protein,” he said.