Cancer Research UK has launched a mid-stage trial in England to explore whether an investigational immunotherapy in development at Amgen can unmask cancer cells and thereby facilitate their detection and destruction by the immune system.

AMG319 targets a protein called PI3K delta, leading to destruction of cancer cells when tested in the laboratory, the charity said, explaining the interest in the therapy.

Around 54 patients with a type of head and neck cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) are to take part in the Phase II trial at Poole Hospital, Southampton General Hospital and the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre/Aintree University Hospital, which will investigate patients’ immune response to the drug.

“This is a really exciting trial because we’re using this drug in solid tumours for the first time. It also tries a whole new concept of cancer therapy in solid cancers for the first time,” said trial lead Professor Christian Ottensmeier. “We hope that after taking the drug, patients will have more cancer fighting immune cells in their tumour. We will study in detail how the immune cells behave before and after AMG319 and whether they have become more effective.”

AMG319 is now the 10th treatment to enter Cancer Research UK’s Clinical Development Partnerships scheme, a joint initiative with Cancer Research Technology that aims to boost the number of cancer clinical trials and accelerate the development of promising new therapies through working in partnership with pharmaceutical companies.