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The first patient in Oxfordshire has been treated in an mRNA cancer vaccine trial at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation trust (OUH). The trial, led locally by Dr Ketan Shah, consultant clinical oncologist at OUH, marks a significant milestone in the national cancer vaccine advance.

The trial, which is focussed on patients with head & neck cancer, aims to assess if the vaccine can improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy (treatments that help the immune system fight cancer). The study – which is being run across sites in Oxford, Southampton and Liverpool, and is in its second phase - is recruiting patients with HPV-16 positive advanced, metastatic, or unresectable cancers.

mRNA cancer vaccines deliver the blueprint of the cancer to the patient’s immune system, to help it recognise and destroy the disease. The vaccine being tested in the trial is manufactured by BioNTech, the company also responsible for making the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Dr Ketan Shah said: 'This is the first mRNA cancer vaccine trial open in Oxford. We signed up to this study before COVID-19 made mRNA vaccine technology famous! It is an area we all think will expand rapidly. New technology needs to be tested thoroughly against what we currently offer, but we all hope that this approach could be transformative to patient care'.

Dr Lennard Lee, Associate Professor of Cancer Vaccines at NDM’s Center for Immuno-Oncology said: “Oxfordshire continues to build on the foundations of very effective vaccine research programmes. The Oxford Cancer Centre at OUH has been very successful in bringing new opportunities for patients and is leading the charge for mRNA cancer vaccine trials. These mRNA cancer vaccines could be the silver lining of recent years, and an amazing tool for those affected by cancer.”

Ann, a patient taking part in the trial commented: 'It is an absolute privilege to be part of this trial. I am realistic about my own situation and hope that the combination of drugs may slow my disease and give me a better quality of life in the short term. My decision to be considered for it however, was not based on the belief that it would cure me but rather a hope that more effective treatments can be found for people who are at the same stage of reoccurrence. Without such trials, progress cannot be made.'