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New trial launched to test cancer vaccine

A new vaccine aimed at enabling the immune system to fight against advanced cancer is being trialled in London and Guildford.

Scientists are testing the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine which works by resembling the natural immune responses generated by the body against bacterial and viral infections.

All patients with any solid tumour, irrespective of their type of cancer and tumour genetic profile, are believed to have the potential to benefit from this sort of treatment.

The (VAPER) trial is taking place at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Guy’s and St Thomas' Clinical Research Facility and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London (BRC). Other centres at the Surrey Cancer Research Institute (SCRI) at the University of Surrey and the Royal Surrey County Hospital are expected to commence patient recruitment later this year.

The first two patients have already been vaccinated in a trial that is anticipated to run for 18-24 months with recruitment of patients currently ongoing.

The aim of the trial is to establish the benefits of the vaccination programme, any side effects associated with it and the impact of this treatment on patients’ quality of life. Scientists hope the results will take them one step closer to developing an effective but nontoxic cancer therapy that can be used in clinical practice.

The clinical teams are being led by Dr James Spicer, Principal Investigator at the BRC and King's College London and Professor Hardev Pandha from SCRI.

Dr Spicer said: “The unique feature of this study is the use of additional agents to boost the vaccination response. It is hoped this will abolish the inhibitory effect of regulatory immune cells present in the patients’ circulation, which are believed to have limited the effectiveness of previous cancer vaccine approaches.”

Professor Pandha said, “We know that the immune system in patients with advanced cancer is supressed, so it’s unable to recognise and kill cancer calls. In this trial we are investigating a form of immunotherapy designed to activate the body’s immune system by administration of a vaccine based on fragments of a key cancer protein.”

The design of the VAPER trial is a natural progression and development of the results obtained from previous pilot immunotherapy studies and is supported by data from related trials carried out in the UK, USA and elsewhere in Europe.

Candles, a Lincolnshire Registered Charity, has played a crucial role in supporting the research including the key pioneering work carried out by Professor Eremin at the Lincoln County Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham and by Professor Farzin Farzaneh, King’s College London. Candles continues to provide funding for this new VAPER Trial programme and to actively fundraise for the continuation of the research.

Should the trial prove successful showing the vaccine is well tolerated, it will be expanded to a larger number of patients to further assess its effectiveness.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said: “This trial is pushing new boundaries for potential cancer treatments, and brings new hope for patients in the fight against cancer. The prospect of a vaccine to help the body’s immune system fight advanced cancer highlights the ground-breaking work being delivered by our world-leading life sciences sector, supported through the Government’s continued investment in the National Institute for Health Research.”

Patient case study – Miss Kelly Potter

Beckenham resident Kelly Potter, 35, a patient of Guy’s Hospital is on the VAPER trial. She was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer in July 2015. She said: “Although I had excellent treatment at Guy’s Hospital where the cancer was stabilised, it had already spread to spots on my liver and lungs. So when I was told that I may be eligible for this trial, I was delighted.

“When I read the leaflet about the VAPER trial it struck me that it seemed a bit of breakthrough and that if it worked, it could be a revolution in the treatment of cancer.

“To be part of the trial has changed my life for the better. It’s been a very positive experience and really interesting. I feel honoured to be involved. You get the best treatment anyway at Guy’s but it’s fantastic to be part of something that could be ground breaking.

“I had my first injection on Tuesday 9th February and have another seven visits to complete the treatment. They did say there may be flu like symptoms but I haven’t noticed anything yet.

“The way I have been cared for and treated by the clinical trial staff is exceptional. Everyone says hello, they know my name, they are very caring, you are not just a person or a number they treat you individually. I can’t thank them enough.

“My hope for the future is to beat the cancer for as long as I can and if I can’t I have come to terms with that. I would like to go on and inspire others with cancer. I am already supporting cancer patients on social media, telling them what to expect by sharing my own experiences but ultimately, I would love to volunteer or work for a cancer charity.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact Jenny Gimpel in the King’s College London press office on 020 7848 4334,

VAPER is the acronym for the research trial title, the full title being: ‘In Vivo Generation of Optimal Tumour Antigen-specific Anticancer Immune Responses, by Vaccination with Human Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase (hTERT) Peptides, in Combination with Specific Adjuvants and Elimination of Immunosuppressive Regulatory Cells, in Patients with Advanced Cancer (Phase I Study)’. The Protocol Short Title/Acronym is Vaccination with Adjuvants, Peptides and Elimination of Regulatory cells (VAPER)

The clinical trial is being conducted by the following multidisciplinary team:

  1. Dr James Spicer (Chief Investigator): Reader in Experimental Oncology at King’s College London, and consultant medical oncologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT). He coordinates Phase I clinical trials at Guy’s Hospital, in the King’s Health Partners Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (funded by NIHR and Cancer Research UK).
  2. Professor Oleg Eremin (Senior Scientific Investigator): Honorary Professor, University of Nottingham. Professor Eremin is an experienced surgical oncologist who has conducted both chemotherapy and immunotherapy studies (hTERT-pulsed dendritic cell-based vaccinations; interleukin-2 i.v. therapy) in patients with advanced cancer. He is involved in evaluating immune responses in patients undergoing vaccination at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham.
  3. Professor Farzin Farzaneh (Senior Scientific Co-Investigator): Professor of Molecular Medicine at King’s College London with expertise in developing vaccination strategies against tumour associated antigens. He is also the Director of the Rayne Cell Therapy Suite at King’s College London, an accredited GMP facility producing Investigational Medicinal Products (IMPs) since 2001 for use in clinical trials in cancer and regenerative medicine. He will oversee the GMP manufacture and QP release of the hTERT peptides, as well as the monitoring of immunological responses in the vaccinated patients.
  4. Professor Hardev Pandah (Principal Investigator): Professor of Medical Oncology and Head of Oncology Programme at University of Surrey. He has extensive (> 15 years) experience in early phase studies in immunotherapy, cancer vaccines, gene therapy and small molecules. His group of 25 have the experience and capability to identify, recruit and treat patients and also process and store study related patient material for immunological analysis. It is envisaged that patients will be recruited during 2016.

Candles (Registered Charity No: 1125834) has been in existence since 2001 when Pam Connock and Dyllys Firth, both survivors of cancer, made a commitment to raise £50,000 to support the research led by Professor Eremin into a new type of treatment for cancer. This target was reached in 20 months. Such was the support shown to this new local fundraising venture, that it convinced both Pam and Dyllys to continue to raise further funds towards Professor Eremin’s research. In 2007 Candles became a registered charity, without any affiliation to national cancer charities, and appointed a Board of Trustees. 

Candles has gone from strength to strength gaining support from all around Lincolnshire. Dyllys and Pam were invited to Downing Street in 2010 and also the Queen’s Garden party in the same year, after being nominated for the Queen’s Jubilee Award. Their commitment to Candles has been solid during the 14 years of fundraising, raising in excess of £800,000, of which the vast majority of funds goes to supporting the research costs, with a very small amount committed to the administration of the charity, as all those involved with the charity are unpaid volunteers. The vision and dedication of the two women is as strong as ever alongside an amazing group of people including Trustees and volunteers who share their commitment and vision to be a part of a brighter future for generations to come in fighting the battle against cancer.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London is one of the first five (of 11) biomedical research centres in England is funded by the National Institute of Health Research to help establish the UK's translational biomedical research infrastructure. With embedded world class core facilities, a range of hosted research organisations and partnerships with industry, this represents the foundation for London’s premier biomedical cluster. We are arranged around four research clusters. For more information visit

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust provides more than 2 million patient contacts in acute and specialist hospital services and community services every year. As one of the biggest NHS trusts in the UK, with an annual turnover of more than £1.3 billion, we employ around 13,650 staff.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ is part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC), a collaboration between King’s College London, and Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts.

The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, healthcare, management, languages and law.

The University of Surrey was recently ranked 5th in the UK National Student Satisfaction survey, 4th in The Guardian league table, 8th in the Complete University Guide and 8th in the Sunday Times Good University Guide of UK universities for 2016. It was also named the Times and Sunday Times ‘University of the Year 2015/16’ both overall, and for student experience.