New partnership to boost research into vaccines for cancer

Health Secretary Steve Barclay at Maidstone hospital in Kent. Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street

Trials into vaccines for cancer and wider diseases will accelerate after the government reached a historic agreement with a leading biopharmaceutical firm to bring revolutionary research to England.

A Memorandum of Understanding will be signed today by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay and the Germany-based company BioNTech that previously developed a world-leading Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer.

The agreement means cancer patients will get early access to trials exploring personalised mRNA therapies, like cancer vaccines. No two cancers are the same and mRNA vaccines will contain a genetic blueprint to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Access to the trials will be via the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad which is being developed by NHS England and Genomics England.

The launch pad will help to rapidly identify large numbers of cancer patients who could be eligible for the trials and explore potential vaccines across multiple types of cancer. Trials for innovative treatments could start as early as Autumn 2023.

The partnership will aim to help patients with early and late-stage cancers. If successfully developed, the cancer vaccines could become part of standard care.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said:

Once cancer is detected, we need to ensure the best possible treatments are available as soon as possible, including for breast, lung and pancreatic cancer.

BioNTech helped lead the world on a Covid-19 vaccine and they share our commitment to scientific advancement, innovation and cutting-edge scientific technology, making them perfect partners for a deal to work together on cancer vaccines.

This partnership will mean that, from as early as September, our patients will be among the first to participate in trials and tests to provide targeted, personalised and precision treatments using transformative new therapies to both treat the existing cancer and help stop it returning.

This agreement builds on this government’s promise to increase research and development spending to £20 billion per year and demonstrates the UK remains one of the most attractive places in the world for innovative companies to invest in research, trial new treatments and treat patients more effectively

Building on the lessons learnt during the pandemic – including the development of a Covid-19 vaccine – the partnership will enable the government and BioNTech to harness the country’s world-leading expertise in organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Genomics England.

The launch pad will complement the ongoing work of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service which helps patients access the latest testing technologies and ensures they are given more targeted precision treatments for their cancer with transformative approaches and better outcomes.

BioNTech’s investment will include setting up a new research and development hub and offices in the UK creating jobs and strengthening the UK’s position as a leader in global life sciences.

Minister for Health and Secondary Care, Will Quince said:

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be heart-breaking for patients and families. This partnership represents a giant leap towards achieving better outcomes for patients.

BioNTech has a proven and distinguished record in vaccine technology and contributed significantly to the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

This partnership now has the potential to develop research leading to cancer therapies which could save lives.

Prof. Ugur Sahin, M.D, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of BioNTech:

The UK successfully delivered Covid-19 vaccines so quickly because the National Health Service, academia, the regulator and the private sector worked together in an exemplary way.

This agreement is a result of the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. Drug development can be accelerated without cutting corners if everyone works seamlessly together towards the same goal. Today’s agreement shows we are committed to do the same for cancer patients.

Our goal is to accelerate the development of immunotherapies and vaccines using technologies we have been researching for over 20 years. The collaboration will cover various cancer types and infectious diseases affecting collectively hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

If successful, this collaboration has the potential to improve outcomes for patients and provide early access to our suite of cancer immunotherapies as well as to innovative vaccines against infectious diseases – in the UK and worldwide.

National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson said:

As we continue to drive forward efforts to diagnose cancers at the earliest possible stage, we also need to make sure we are looking at every opportunity to improve treatments. This new partnership will unlock the potential to develop revolutionary treatments in the UK to benefit NHS patients.

mRNA technology has the potential to be a transformative approach in a number of illnesses, and we hope that by finding out how to vaccinate people against their own cancers we can further improve their chances of staying cancer-free.

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