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CRUK forms a new partnership to develop a head and neck cancer vaccine

Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the University of Southampton and the London-based biotechnology company Touchlight Genetics have announced a new partnership to progress a therapeutic vaccine into early phase clinical trails for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

HNSCC is the eighth most common cancer in the UK and accounts for around 4,000 deaths in the UK each year. Despite the ongoing success of cancer immunotherapies, it is hoped that cancer vaccines will provide a long-lasting and more widespread benefit for cancer patients.

The aim of DNA cancer vaccines is to stimulate the host’s immune system by priming it with a component of the cancer cell – tumour antigens. Tumour antigens are mainly proteins overexpressed in the tumour tissue that are essential for the tumour’s ability to proliferate and metastasise. The new therapeutic DNA vaccine, known as TGL-100, encodes two antigens overexpressed in HNSCC in order to induce an immune-specific response against these antigens.

While this form of therapy has shown some promise in clinical studies, they have often been based on circular plasmid DNA which is time-consuming and expensive to manufacture. The new vaccine combats this by combining potent cancer antigens with a novel DNA vector developed by Touchlight Genetics – Doggybone DNA (dbDNA) – a double-stranded, linear, covalently closed molecule.

CEO of Touchlight Genetics, Jonny Ohlson, stated:

“TGL-100 emerged from a collaboration with the brilliant Christian Ottensmeier and his talented team at the University of Southampton. Partnering with Cancer Research UK will provide the regulatory know-how, clinical expertise and operational capability to help translate this potentially transformative class of personalised therapies into patient benefit.”

In this new partnership, CRUK’s Centre for Drug Development will sponsor and manage the Phase I/II clinical trials for TGL-100 in HNSCC patients with recurrent metastatic disease. The trial will test a new combination of the vaccine and a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor to determine whether this will improve patients’ response to the checkpoint inhibitor and therefore increase patients’ life expectancy.

Chief Clinical Investigator at the University of Southampton, Professor Christian Ottensmeier, stated:

“We expect that this trial will deliver fundamental insights into how we can use cancer vaccines in the most optimal way so we can boost survival for people with head and neck cancer.”

Image credit: Medical photo created by freepik –

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Cancer Research / Immunotherapy / Vaccine