Cancer Research UK has begun testing a novel immunotherapy vaccine for lung cancer in Phase I trials, under a collaboration agreement with Asterias Biotherapeutics.

AST-VAC2, which came to the charity via its Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme, is derived from a standardised human embryonic stem cell line as opposed to from a patient’s own cells, a process which is “costly, slow and inefficient”.

Its dendritic cells are engineered to express a modified form of telomerase, a protein almost always present at high levels in various types of cancer cells but rarely in healthy cells.

This modified form of telomerase, called hTERT, can stimulate a natural immune response targeted at cancer cells.

Researchers hope that the vaccine will prove to be effective in preventing recurrence of the lung cancer, or in combination with other therapies treat patients with advanced disease.

CR UK’s Centre for Drug Development will now take AST-VAC2 through a Phase I clinical trial in non-small cell lung cancer, designed to show feasibility of the manufacturing process at a clinical scale as well as safety and efficacy.

“Vaccines that boost the immune system to recognise and fight cancer could become a routine part of treatment for certain patients in the future, but we need to make them cheaper and easier to produce,” said Professor Christian Ottensmeier, chief investigator for the trial and head of the Southampton Experimental Cancer Medicines Centre (ECMC).

“With its potential to be used off-the-shelf, AST-VAC2 is an exciting development in the rapidly evolving field of immunotherapy.”

“In the future, there’s also the potential to utilise this novel platform technology to produce treatments that could, in theory, target multiple tumour antigens and thereby treat a whole range of different cancers and tumour types,” added Michael Mulroy, president and chief executive of Asterias.