New ‘revolutionary’ cancer vaccine underway
• First human clinical trials to be run in S’Africa
• Finland varsity requires €6m to commercialise drug
The University of Helsinki, Finland, may have developed a vaccine that can prevent and possibly cure cancer without any other form of treatment, including chemotherapy.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. “A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins.”
If all goes according to plan, the first human clinical trials for the vaccine will be run in South Africa, on Melanoma patients with triple negative breast cancer. Vaccine trial is considered very cheap in Africa and South Africa has remained a big industry for it.
Speaking more about the vaccine at the just-concluded Slush 2016, an annual global conference for start-ups and venture capitalists, the Director, Life Sciences, Helsinki Innovation Services, Dr. Milla Koistinaho, told The Guardian that the university required at least €6 million to commercialise the revolutionary drug.
She explained that about €3 million would probably come from Finnish government sources as a Research and Development (R & D) loan, while the remaining €3 million would come from equity funding.
Plans for the trial in Africa notwithstanding, there are concerns that the drug may only be affordable to the rich.
“Investors are really interested in funding the commercialisation of vaccine. Basically, we just founded the company and now we are talking to investors globally,’’ Koistinaho said. “We have had good discussions with investors in Asia, United States, in Europe and Finland. We expect that the first seed round will happen definitely in less than two months.”
Global interest in commercialising the vaccine may not be unconnected with the fact that in 2015, there were an estimated 17.5 million cancer cases around the globe and 8.7 million deaths, according to a new report from the Global Burden of Disease Cancer Collaboration published online by the JAMA Oncology.
Furthermore, statistics from the National Cancer Institute indicate that “The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.
“While more than 60 per cent of the world’s new cancer cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, 70 per cent of the world’s cancer deaths also occur in these regions.”
Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. The cancer cells grow and divide to create more cells and will eventually form a tumour.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide and estimates of its burden around the globe are vital for cancer control planning. There are more than 100 types of cancers. The treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery.
Elaborating on the technological and scientific breakthrough, Koistinaho told The Guardian that “the vaccine was invented by a professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy, the University of Helsinki. This project got its origin from an invention disclosure that the professor filed to the university two years ago.
“We first of all evaluated whether it was scientifically interesting and whether it was something that could be commercialised and the answer was yes. So we filed an application in 2014 and then attracted governmental commercialisation funding for this project for two years. Now this concept has been tested in several animal models with cancer and it was discovered that the technology cured the mice from cancer, so this is really a revolutionary treatment.”
She disclosed that the vaccine has not yet been tested on human, adding that “the company has now been permitted to exploit the technology further and the intellectual property has been transferred from the university to the Spinout, and now the Spinout is fund raising to enable starting the clinical trials in humans.
“Most probably, the first indications where we will try this technology in humans will be melanoma, in triple negative breast cancer. The plan is that most probably the first clinical trials, especially in melanoma patients will be run in South Africa.”
With regard to the rate of cure, Koistinaho said: “Basically this only cured mice so far, but the rates are remarkable. Typically, we have run animal experiments where first, the mice were inoculated with melanoma (a type of malignant cancer that develops from the pigment-containing cells known as melanocytes) cells and they created melanoma tumors and then we treated them with this technology and the tumors disappeared completely.”