New ovarian cancer drug could give women years of life in the form of a ‘therapeutic’ vaccine

Women who have ovarian cancer are to receive a new vaccine that experts hope could give them years of extra life. Survival rates for the disease, which claims more than 4,000 lives a year in Britain, are low because it is often only spotted late, when tumours have spread to the rest of the body. But Canadian company BioVaxys has developed a ‘therapeutic’ vaccine – one to be used as a treatment for those already ill – which it believes could significantly extend lives. It works by teaching the immune system how to recognise cancerous cells, which are adept at hiding themselves to avoid attack.

Each jab is tailored to the individual and uses cancerous cells extracted from the patient’s own tumours after surgery. While European testing involving up to 100 patients is expected to start towards the end of the year, Dr David Berd, who pioneered the method, said the results from a small-scale trial with a prototype vaccine had been promising. ‘Survival was two to three times what one would expect [in women with advanced ovarian cancer].

There were a couple with five-year survival,’ he added. Since that study, he said, the vaccine had been improved and the new version would be capable of giving some women ‘years of extra life’. BioVaxys is working with a Spanish company, Procter & Gamble spin-off Procare Health, to co[1]fund the new trial, but decisions on which countries the trial will take place in have yet to be finalised.

BioVaxys is also developing another vaccine for treating women with cervical cancer and pursuing one to protect those who are infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), which over time can trigger cervical and other cancers in some individuals. While ‘prophylactic’ HPV vaccines are now well established, and offered to all boys and girls in the UK when they are 12 or 13 (in school year 8), these vaccines cannot protect anyone who has already been infected with the virus, which is spread through sexual contact

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