A cure just got closer thanks to a tiny British company
A revolution is brewing on an English business park as scientists harness our natural-born killers – the T cells – to target malign tumours
SUNDAY 14 JULY 2013
A single-storey workshop on a nondescript business park in Oxfordshire is not the sort of place where you would expect scientific revolutions to take place. But behind the white-painted walls of this small start-up company, scientists are talking about the impossible – a potential cure for cancer.
For the past 20 years, the former academics who set up Immunocore have worked hard on realising their dream of developing a totally new approach to cancer treatment, and finally it looks as if their endeavours are beginning to pay off. In the past three weeks, the company has signed contracts with two of the biggest players in the pharmaceuticals industry which could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds flowing into the firm's unique research on cancer immunotherapy – using the body's own immune system to fight tumour cells.
Immunocore is probably the only company in the world that has developed a way of harnessing the power of the immune system's natural-born killer cells: the T-cells of the blood which nature has designed over millions of years of evolution to seek out and kill invading pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. T-cells are not nearly as good at finding and killing cancer cells, but the hard-nosed executives of the drugs industry – who are notoriously cautious when it comes to investments – believe Immunocore may have found a way around this so that cancer patients in future are able to fend off their disease with their own immune defences. [snip]
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Very clever, it requires the production of an antibody directed against a surface epitope that is specific to a person's tumor, and not on some important cell type that will also be killed by IMMtaq an is required. The EGF VIII mutation in glioblastoma already has an antibody against it. This technology could constitute major competition for Vical, but it is years off.