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New treatment for brain cancer could extend life by two years

A pioneering cancer treatment that can double survival times for brain tumour sufferers is undergoing trials for the first time in Britain.

King’s College Hospital and King’s College London are jointly piloting the therapy, which has already been shown in the US to give sufferers about two more years of life.

About 13,000 people are diagnosed with brain cancer in the UK every year, with about half diagnosed with the most common and aggressive type, known as glioblastoma multiforme. The tumour is currently treated with drugs and surgery but the survival time following diagnosis is only 12-18 months.

The new treatment works by using a patient’s tumour to develop a personalised vaccine. The vaccine, called DCVax, has shown in clinical trials to delay the tumour returning for two years. It also extended a patient’s average survival to three years.

Neurosurgeon Keyoumars Ashkan, who is involved in the King’s trial, said new therapies were vital for brain cancer patients. “Brain cancers are some of the most lethal cancers and there is a great need for new treatments,” he said. “The positive data from the clinical trials in the US were very encouraging in delaying disease progression and extending survival times.” The new treatment works by “teaching” the immune system to recognise, attack, then kill deadly brain cancer cells naturally.

Doctors operate to remove as much of the tumour as possible and then use the excised tumour to create an injectable vaccine, which educates the immune system to fight the brain cancer cells when they reappear.

Patients still undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy but the vaccine uses the body’s natural immune response to fight the cancer. Trials have shown the treatment delays the brain cancer returning and patients enjoy a good quality of life.

Brain cancer vaccine trial begins

The first patient in Europe has received the treatment at King’s College Hospital in London. Robert Demeger, 62, was diagnosed with the condition earlier this year.

Keyoumars Ashkan, a neurosurgeon at King’s, is leading the UK arm of the trial. He says there is a pressing need for new and better treatments for brain cancers.