A ground-breaking vaccine to treat early bowel cancer will go on trial for patients thanks to a worldwide collaboration between scientists and doctors at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust and in Australia.

The trial will be run by the Cancer Research UK Southampton Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Southampton in collaboration with Royal Surrey and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, Australia.

There will be ten sites for patients to be enrolled – six in Australia and four in the UK, with 44 patients to be enrolled in the study over an 18-month period.

Dr Tony Dhillon, chief investigator of the trial and consultant medical oncologist at Royal Surrey, proposed the idea for the trial and has worked with Professor Tim Price in Australia for the past four years to develop the vaccine.

The vaccine will be used to treat patients before surgery, in the hope that it will cause the body to attack the cancer. It would mean any surgery would be less invasive. It is also hoped that the strength of the vaccine could support the immune system to respond if there is a relapse and the cancer returns later on.

Dr Dhillon said: “This is the first treatment vaccine in any gastrointestinal cancer and we have high hopes that it will be very successful. We think that for a lot of patients, the cancer will have completely gone after this treatment.”

Patients will have an endoscopy and a tissue sample will be tested to see if they are eligible for the trial. If they are, they will have three doses of the vaccine before having surgery to remove the cancer.

The trial will be available for just 44 patients around the world.  After the trial finishes, the vaccine will either be licensed for use, or if it’s successful a bigger study will be carried out.

The vaccine has been designed by clinical stage immuno-oncology company Imugene Ltd.

Dr Dhillon added: “This is ground-breaking. I feel as if we are on the edge of something really big here. The vaccine makes the immune system go after the cancer.

“It will be life changing because it means that potentially, patients may not need to have surgery – they may just have the vaccine.

“The work we have done here at Royal Surrey is fantastic. We are hugely proud to have been involved in this worldwide trial and believe it could be key to treating bowel cancer in the future.”

Royal Surrey’s chief executive Louise Stead said: “We are hugely proud to have been involved in the launch of this ground-breaking new vaccine.

“As the fourth largest cancer centre in the UK, helping to fight cancer is a huge part of what we do and this will really provide an opportunity for bowel cancer patients and give them real hope of beating the disease.

“I would like to say a huge well done to Dr Tony Dhillon and everyone associated with this trial for all their hard work.”

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer, with a worldwide annual incidence of over 1.2 million cases and a mortality rate of approximately 50 per cent.