24 Jul 2013

Vaccine project targets hard cancer

10:40 pm on 24 July 2013

The Malaghan Institute says it deliberately chose melanoma as the focus of its work to develop a cancer vaccine.

The Wellington-based medical research institute is to begin trialing a potential melanoma vaccine on people for the first time from August.

Director Graham Le Gros told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Wednesday the vaccine uses a synthetic ingredient modelled on an element found in sea sponges to improve the ability of the body's own immune system, the T cells, to attack and kill melanoma.

Professor Le Gros says melanoma was the best choice for several reasons.

"It's a really hard cancer - there's not a lot of options for people. We've got some unique understanding of melanoma and the immune system. Things like prostate cancer and colon cancer are actually much harder to target, but we actually know quite a bit about melanoma and the antigens that we can use to trigger the immune system there."

Professor Le Gros says it's likely to be five years before there's a result.