Highlights //

Major new cancer vaccine programme (2010)

Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators are involved in a major new research programme that aims to develop and trial anti-cancer vaccines in New Zealand.

The body’s immune system is capable of killing tumour cells, and researchers around the world are searching for ways to ramp up this response in cancer patients using vaccines.

Unlike traditional vaccines, cancer vaccines are designed to be given after the disease has developed, and can be added to standard cancer treatments due to their relative lack of side effects.

A major new cancer vaccine research programme began in 2010 with a $4.5 million grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.



The five-year programme aims to create one new vaccine and test it in patients, and also lay the groundwork for others.

It builds on new ideas for producing vaccine components capable of strongly stimulating cancer patients’ immune cells, and will use state-of-the art manufacturing facilities at Industrial Research Limited (IRL), the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, and The University of Auckland.

Programme head, Dr Ian Hermans from the Malaghan Institute, says that although the focus is on melanoma, the techniques being developed can be applied to other cancers in the future.

“Many cancers may respond to immune activation, so an effective vaccine-based strategy with a good safety profile could alleviate suffering on a large scale.”

“Our vision is to bring together the best expertise in New Zealand to deliver more effective cancer vaccines. New Zealand’s leading immunologists and chemists will design and manufacture the vaccines and the country’s leading clinical researchers will test them in patients.”

“We aim to capitalise on the world-class knowledge and expertise that has developed here through publicly funded research across a range of disciplines, and to move forward with that knowledge in a collaborative way.”

“As scientists we want to see more of our work making it into the clinic and this programme takes a truly “bench-to-bedside” translational approach. It also establishes structures that will allow us to do more work with patients in the future.”

The programme links investigators at the Malaghan Institute with a team at IRL led by Dr Gavin Painter and groups at The University of Auckland led by Professors Rod Dunbar and Margaret Brimble.

Professor Michael Findlay of Cancer Trials New Zealand will coordinate clinical aspects of the programme and the trial will be led at Wellington Hospital by Dr Catherine Barrow. Dr Katrina Sharples from the University of Otago will provide statistical analysis.

The Maurice Wilkins Centre provides a forum to bring together many of the lead researchers, and has contributed funding for the synthetic chemistry required to manufacture one of the vaccine components.


Image: GMP manufacturing facilities at Glycosyn, Industrial Research Limited. Photo couretsy of Industrial Research Limited.