Publish Date: 
Monday, March 2, 2020 - 08:45

The Translational Research Institute (TRI) has awarded a research grant to fund a Phase I clinical trial for an innovative new treatment for head and neck cancer associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Researchers running the Brisbane-based trial are recruiting patients to try 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. It follows the initial success of first-in-human trials proving the safety of the new HPV vaccine developed by The University of Queensland’s Professor Ian Frazer, who is based at the TRI, and developed by Brisbane-based Jingang Medicine (Australia) Pty Ltd.

Professor Porceddu said the clinical trial was unique because it involved a completely new approach to treating cancer.

“For the first time, we’re combining a class of drugs designed to kick-start the immune system 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 neck and 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.

“What is exciting is that I have antibodies present in my blood which is a successful sign.”

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.

The new throat cancer trial is set to commence screening for patients in February 2020 with the first enrolment by April of 2020. It is anticipated that accrual of all patients will be completed by mid-2021 with the final results known by 2022.

The trial is backed by a $531,745 TRI research grant co-funded by the Metro South Hospital and Health Service and The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, with pharmaceutical companies Jingang Medicine (Australia) Pty Ltd and Astra Zeneca supplying more than $2.5 million in vaccines and drugs.

About the clinical trial

The DurVax Trial is looking to recruit 12 participants with screening commencing in March. Eligible Australians will participate in monthly treatments over 12 months. In the Phase I clinical trial, the research team are specifically looking at whether the treatment combination is safe to use and if it causes the cancer to shrink and promote longer patient survival than if the immune drug was used alone. This study is a potential game changer in the way to treat this cancer and possibly others.

About TRI research grants

The TRI is a unique, Australian-first initiative of ‘bench to bedside’ medical research. Based in Brisbane, the TRI combines clinical and translational research to advance progress from laboratory discovery to application in the community.

The TRI awards research grants to drive innovation and fast-track translation and commercialisation of research. To be successful, researchers must address an important clinical question, and utilise a collaborative, cross-disciplinary team including a clinician and commercial partner. By funding these projects, the TRI aims to promote collaboration, clinical inclusion, innovation and commercialisation of translational research.

About Professor Sandro Porceddu

Professor Porceddu is an internationally recognised oncologist and a leading authority in head and neck and skin cancer. He is currently the Director of Radiation Oncology Research at the Princess Alexandra Hospital and Professor of Medicine with the University of Queensland. Professor Porceddu has led Phase I, II and III clinical trials in the field of head and neck and dermato-oncology. He has served as President of the Clinical Oncology of Australia (COSA) and the Trans-Tasman Radiation Oncology Group (TROG), and Board Director of the Cancer Council of Australia (CCA).

Media: Julia Renaud  | [email protected]