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World first Human trials commence for HPV-related head and neck cancers

28 February 2020

Brisbane researchers are recruiting for a world-first human trial into head and neck cancer associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) using a completely new approach to treating this specific cancer with a HPV vaccine combined with an immunotherapy drug.

Director of Radiation Oncology Research at Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH), Professor Sandro Porceddu, is pioneering the Durvax Trial to treat incurable HPV cancers of the throat after the initial success of first-in-human trials proving the safety of the new HPV vaccine developed by Professor Ian Frazer from the Translational Research Institute (TRI).

“For the first time, this double-prong approach, combines a class of drugs designed to kick-start the immune system, known as a checkpoint inhibitor, with an HPV vaccine to activate the immune system to attack the cancer,” said Prof Porceddu.

“This treatment combination is important because many cancers, like HPV-induced throat cancers, are able to stop the immune system from having an effect on the cancer itself,” he said.

“The addition of this immunotherapy drug takes the ‘brakes off the immune system’ enhancing the body’s ability to attack the cancer which is similar to how the body manages infections.”

The vaccine stimulates the immune system to develop antibodies directed toward the cancer cells which are expressing bits of the virus on its surface.

In Australia, tonsil and base of tongue cancer accounts for 1500 deaths annually, 500 of which are related to HPV and this figure is rising.

“Our own Queensland data has shown a 162 per cent increase in tonsil and base of tongue cancer in men over the past 15 years. It is now the most common head and neck cancer in Queensland,” Prof. Porceddu said.

Head and neck cancer patient, Mark Yabsley (60) from Brisbane’s southside was part of the first-in-human trials using the HPV vaccine and is excited about the future of the research for other patients with throat cancer.

“I had months of radiation therapy for throat cancer and was very lucky to be part of the early phase of the vaccine trial,” he said.

“Being part of a trial turns your fear of the unknown into confidence in the treatment you are having.  I'm pleased that my part in this trial has given something back to the system so other people can benefit.

"The great news is that I have antibodies present in my blood from the vaccine which is a sign of success.”

TRI CEO, Professor Scott Bell said the clinical trial had the potential to improve outcomes for patients with HPV throat cancer as well as change the way we treat other cancers caused by viruses.

“The TRI established a research grant program to drive collaborative medical research from the bench to bedside. We believe Professor Porceddu’s research has great potential to lead to increased cancer survival rates for virus-induced cancers,” said Prof Bell.

Last updated 28 February 2020
Last reviewed 28 February 2020

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