Early human test results suggest a vaccine can train cancer patients' bodies to seek out and destroy tumour cells.
The therapy, which targets a molecule found in 90 per cent of cancers, eventually could provide an injection that would allow patients' immune systems to fight off common cancers including breast and prostate cancer.
The first results of trials in people, at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, suggest the vaccine can reduce levels of disease. The human work is so preliminary it has yet to be published in a scientific journal.
The scientists behind the vaccine hope to conduct more extensive trials to prove it can be effective
against a range of cancers. They believe it could be used to fight small tumours if they are detected early or to help prevent the return and spread of disease in patients who have undergone conventional treatment.
In the safety trial at Hadassah, 10 patients with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, received the vaccine. Seven have finished the treatment and the developer, drug company Vaxil Biotherapeutics, reported all had greater immunity against cancer cells compared with before they were given the vaccine. Vaxil added that three patients were free of detectable cancer following the treatment.
Cancer cells usually evade a patient's immune system because they are not recognized as a threat. While the immune system usually attacks foreign cells such as bacteria, tumours are formed of the patient's own cells that have malfunctioned.
Scientists have discovered that a molecule called MUC1, which is found on the surface of cancer cells, can be used to help the immune sys-tem detect tumours. The new vaccine, ImMucin, developed by Vaxil and researchers at Tel Aviv University, uses a section of the molecule to prime the immune system so it can identify and thus destroy cancer cells.
Vaxil suggested that if large-scale trials prove as successful, the vaccine could be available within six years. Initial research on the vaccine, in mice, was published in the journal Vaccine, and suggested the treatment induced "potent" immunity in mice and increased their survival from cancer.
Cancer charities gave the vaccine a cautious welcome. Dr. Kat Arney, at Cancer Research UK, said: "These are very early results that are yet to be fully published, so there's a lot more work to be done to prove that this particular vaccine is safe and effective in cancer patients."