Researchers to harness smallpox vaccine virus to fight cancer

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A charity has announced plans for a trial in Yorkshire to investigate whether a virus used to vaccinate against smallpox could be used to tackle cancer

Yorkshire Cancer Research said the work is the first clinical trial to be funded through its new Centre for Early Phase Clinical Trials at St James’s Hospital in Leeds set up to give patients from the region better access to pioneering treatments.

The study will employ a technique to stimulate the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, known as immunotherapy.

The cancer-killing virus Pexa-Vec, based on the one used to vaccinate against smallpox, will be injected into liver, bladder, kidney and melanoma cancer patients before they undergo surgery to test how their tumours and immune systems respond.

Prof Alan Melcher, who will lead the research, said it was “ground-breaking work”.

“We are delighted to have secured funding for this very exciting clinical trial,” he said.

Michel Homerin, of French biopharmaceutical firm Transgene, which is funding the study, said: “The results from this study should provide us important information on Pexa-Vec’s activity in the actual tumour environment, providing us invaluable information on the mechanism of action of this immunotherapy candidate.”