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UK Signs Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Agreement with BioNTech

The Government announced it had signed a long-term partnership agreement with BioNTech SE to offer up to 10,000 cancer patients access to personalised mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies by 2030.

Under the terms of the agreement, the German-based company plans to establish new research and development laboratories in Cambridge, with the aim of employing more than 70 scientists.

The announcement followed a memorandum of understanding signed in January between BioNTech and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). England's Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, described the latest announcement as "a huge step forward in the fight against cancer".

Cancer Research UK said the announcement was exciting but warned that results would depend on the NHS having the capacity and time to support development. 

Trials will focus on personalised mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies which use a similar technology to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine that BioNTech developed in collaboration with Pfizer.

The biopharmaceutical firm has already begun conducting clinical trials in the UK, and further trials could be launched from 2026.

Trials Database

A 'cancer vaccine launch pad', led by NHS England in partnership with Genomics England, would be created to help identify eligible trial patients using surplus tissue samples. Patients would need to consent to be added to the database and be put forward for any trials. 

Sean Marett, CMG, chief business officer at BioNTech SE, said: "Through the development by the UK of a unified national contract approach for clinical trials that will let hospitals rapidly sign-up to clinical trials being undertaken in the UK by BioNTech, we are hoping to reach many UK cancer patients that wish to participate in clinical trials with new BioNTech investigational cancer treatments quickly and efficiently."

The partnership could benefit patients with early and late-stage cancers, according to the DHSC, which said that successfully developed cancer immunotherapies could become part of routine NHS care.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England said that "with the first patients set to take part in vaccine trials this autumn, we hope to find a way of vaccinating people against their own cancers and improve their chances of survival".

BioNTech had also committed to setting up administrative offices in the UK, the DHSC said. Professor Uğur Şahin, chief executive officer and co-founder of BioNTech, said: "If successful, this collaboration has the potential to improve outcomes for patients and provide early access to our suite of cancer immunotherapies as well as to innovative vaccines against infectious diseases – in the UK and worldwide."

NHS Capacity Needed to Ensure Success

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, commented: "mRNA vaccines are one of the most exciting research developments to come out of the pandemic, and there are strong signs that they could become powerful treatment options for cancer.

"Getting there will require lots more research, which is why this news is so exciting. The NHS provides the world-class infrastructure and DNA sequencing technologies that are essential for testing this new technology and unlocking its life-saving potential. The UK has a great opportunity to lead in this field.

"However, these ambitions won't become a reality without addressing the lack of time and capacity available for research within the NHS. The UK Government needs to urgently deliver a programme which offers contracts with protected time for research to key NHS staff, to give them the time and space needed to get trials progressing quickly."