A doctor involved in testing a new vaccine which could offer hope to sufferers of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma has confirmed that trials are to begin in November.
Dr Zsuzsanna Tabi (Cardiff University), head of Cancer Immunology Research Group at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, will examine whether combining a vaccine called Trovax with chemotherapy can improve the quality of life for sufferers of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is caused by contact with asbestos – a highly-dangerous substance which was for years used as a building material until it became banned.
The disease causes chest pain and severe shortness of breath and it can take as long as 50 years for the symptoms to appear.
No win no fee solicitors can help people with an asbestos-related illness receive the compensation they need and deserve. But presently there is only so much that the medical world can do for a mesothelioma sufferer as there is no cure for this form of cancer.
This is why medical research into mesothelioma is so vital.
I interviewed Zsuzsanna Tabi to find out the aims and processes involved in the Cardiff trial.
Question: When will the trial start?
Dr Tabi: The trial is funded by the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund in Leeds and is expected to start in November 2011. SKOPOS – which means ‘target’ - is the name given to the trial
Q: Who will be working on the trial?
Dr Tabi: The team consists of scientists and clinicians employed by Velindre NHS Trust and/or Cardiff University.
Q: News reports suggest that the potential new vaccine for mesothelioma is due to be tested on 26 people? Is this the case and if so how will you decide which people will participate in the trials?
Dr Tabi: Yes, we will be recruiting 26 patients. Those patients who are going to receive standard chemotherapy as their first treatment will be eligible to enter the trial. The reason behind this is that the vaccine in combination with chemotherapy is expected to be more efficient than on its own. If we can prove that the vaccine acts as expected, we may be able to treat other patients as well in the next phase.
Q: Can you tell me a little more about what the trials will involve?
Dr Tabi: This is a phase II trial which means that the treatment is tested in a relatively small group of patients. In this group we wish to see that the vaccine (a) generates immune responses in the patients (b) has an effect on the size of the tumour and/or on progression-free and overall survival time of the patients and (c) improves the quality of life of the patients.
Q: What is the next step? Are there any forthcoming dates pencilled in for further trials etc.?
Dr Tabi: If we find a positive answer to question (a) above, and good indications in (b) and (c), then the vaccine will be tested in a larger number of patients (Phase III trial) to prove that it significantly prolongs patients’ lives. The results of this next trial, if positive, can lead to the vaccine becoming part of standard treatment of mesothelioma.
Q: Is there anything else you can say to give hope to mesothelioma sufferers who are monitoring the progress of the trial?
Dr Tabi: Combination of standard treatments with immunotherapy is proving successful in other cancers, such as melanoma and renal cancer. Immunotherapy (different from our trial) of mesothelioma patients is also being tested in the USA and Holland. This treatment is not toxic and with the right doses, timing and combinations, we are optimistic that it will be beneficial to mesothelioma sufferers.
By James Christie