'Groundbreaking' lung cancer vaccine being developed

Researchers are seeking to create the world's first vaccine to prevent lung cancer in people who are at high risk of the disease.

Scientists from the University of Oxford, the Francis Crick Institute and University College London (UCL) have used technology similar to the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to create the "LungVax," a vaccine which activates the immune system to kill cancer cells and stop lung cancer.

The team has been granted up to £1.7m in funding by charities, Cancer Research UK and the CRIS Cancer Foundation, to manufacture 3,000 doses of the vaccine.

It works by using a strand of DNA which trains the immune system to recognise "red flag" proteins in lung cancer cells - known as neoantigens - and kill them.

These neoantigens appear on the surface of the cell because of cancer-causing mutations within the cell's DNA.

According to data from Cancer Research UK, there are about 48,500 cases of lung cancer every year in the UK, 72% of which are caused by smoking.

However, the LungVax provides a "really important step forward" into a future where cancer is more preventable, Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the charity, said.

"The science that successfully steered the world out of the pandemic could soon be guiding us toward a future where people can live longer, better lives free from the fear of cancer," she said.

"We're in a golden age of research and this is one of many projects which we hope will transform lung cancer survival."

If the vaccine can successfully show in a lab setting that it triggers an immune response, it will move into a clinical trial. Positive results from this could then lead to bigger trials for people at high risk of the disease.

High-risk people could include those aged 55-74 who currently smoke, have previously smoked and those who qualify for targeted lung health checks in parts of the UK.

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"Fewer than 10% of people with lung cancer survive their disease for 10 years or more. That must change," Professor Mariam Jamal-Hanjani of UCL and the Francis Crick Institute, who will lead the LungVax clinical trial, said.

"This research complements existing efforts through lung health checks to detect lung cancer earlier in people who are at greatest risk."

She said based on early predictions the vaccine has the potential to cover around 90% of all lung cancers.

"LungVax will not replace stopping smoking as the best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer," she said, adding that it could offer a viable route to preventing some of the earliest stage cancers from emerging in the first place.

Lola Manterola, president of the CRIS Cancer Foundation, based in South Kensington, London, called the study "groundbreaking" as it represents a firm step towards preventing cancer.