How a 7-minute injection could revolutionize cancer therapy

NHS England to offer the world’s first cancer injection that cuts treatment time by 75 percent.
Rizwan Choudhury
A vaccine and a syringe.
A vaccine and a syringe.

Credit: Alernon77/iStock 

A new injection that can treat cancer in minutes will be offered to hundreds of patients in England by the NHS, making it the first health service in the world to do so. The injection, which delivers the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab under the skin, has been approved by the UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA.

Atezolizumab aka Tecentriq

As per a Reuters report, Atezolizumab, also known as Tecentriq, is a drug that boosts the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. It is currently used for various types of cancer, such as lung, breast, liver, and bladder. Until now, patients had to receive it through a drip into their veins, which could take up to an hour and sometimes cause difficulties in finding a suitable vein.

The new injection method will reduce the treatment time to just seven minutes, freeing up more time for both patients and cancer teams. “This approval will not only allow us to deliver convenient and faster care for our patients but will enable our teams to treat more patients throughout the day,” said Dr Alexander Martin, a consultant oncologist at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Marius Scholtz, Medical Director at Roche Products Limited, the company that makes atezolizumab, said: “We are delighted that this new formulation of atezolizumab has been approved by the MHRA. It takes approximately seven minutes, compared with 30 to 60 minutes for the current method of an intravenous infusion.”

NHS England said it expected most of the around 3,600 patients who start atezolizumab treatment every year in England to switch to the injection. However, some patients who receive atezolizumab along with intravenous chemotherapy may still need the drip.

Partnership for the mRNA vaccine

Earlier the UK government announced a partnership with BioNTech, the German company behind the mRNA vaccine technology that has proven effective against COVID. The aim of this partnership is to test vaccines for cancer and other diseases using the same technology.

The project hopes to provide 10,000 UK patients with personalized therapies by 2030 and could start trials as early as this fall.

Cancer treatment has traditionally relied on surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, which are methods of removing, destroying, or stopping the growth of cancer cells. However, these methods can also harm healthy cells and cause severe side effects.

New research on immunotherapy

In recent years, new treatments such as immunotherapy have emerged, which work by boosting the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy drugs can block certain proteins on the surface of cancer cells that prevent the immune system from attacking them. This way, the immune system can recognize and kill cancer cells as if they were foreign invaders.

Immunotherapy drugs have shown promising results in some types of cancer, especially melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

A personalized cancer vaccine using mRNA technology has shown promising results in a trial involving patients with stage 3 melanoma, a type of skin cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The vaccine was developed by Moderna and Merck, the same companies that produced mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.

The vaccine works by identifying the most mutated parts of the cancer’s DNA, called neoantigens, and inserting them into a strand of mRNA. This strand is then injected into the patient, where it instructs the cells to produce a small amount of the cancer protein. This triggers the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer cells.

The trial compared the vaccine with the standard treatment of surgery followed by immunotherapy, which is a drug that blocks the proteins that cancer cells use to evade the immune system. The vaccine reduced the risk of cancer recurrence or death by 44 percent, without causing any additional side effects.

This is a potential breakthrough in cancer treatment, but it needs to be confirmed in larger studies and in other types of cancer. The UK government has announced a partnership with BioNTech, another mRNA company, to create a research center in Cambridge that will explore this approach and offer it to 10,000 patients on the NHS.

This vaccine is an example of personalized, targeted medicine, which could revolutionize cancer care. It could make cancer not only a manageable condition but a curable one.

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