The UK appears to have reaped a benefit from Brexit after striking a deal with German Covid vaccine maker BioNTech to develop a new range of cancer vaccines for crucial trials. BioNTech, the firm which partnered US pharmaceutical group Pfizer to develop a vaccine shot for COVID-19, is set to enrol up to 10,000 patients in clinical trials for cutting-edge cancer treatments after striking a landmark deal with the UK.
It is hoped that the grounbreaking vaccines will help to stop cancers from returning or to prevent them from spreading if they are detected during their early stages.
The personalised cancer vaccines will be used harness patients’ immune systems to directly tackle their tumours, with each one tailored to an individual tumour’s genetic code.
BioNTech’s co-founder and chief executive, Uğur Şahin, has said the investment to meet the pledge of enrolling 10,000 patients in the trials by 2030 would be “huge”, although he noted that he cannot put an exact figure on it.
While a host of countries are expected to flock to the treatments in the future, it appears that Britain is the first to the party.
BioNTech’s other co-founder, Professor Ozlem Tureci told BBC News: “We have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic with the fast approval of vaccines in the UK that the regulatory authority is exceptional. And then there is the genomic-analysis capabilities. The UK is one of the leading nations in that regard.”
According to financial columnist Matthew Lynn, this is all thanks to Brexit. As he notes in a piece for The Spectator, Brexit has benefited the UK in this way as it “allows the UK to create a more flexible, simpler regulatory structure, and one that is better suited to our needs, and avoids the ‘if in doubt ban it’ bureaucracy that dominates the rest of Europe.”
He adds that a second benefit is that the “UK can use that to become a laboratory for advanced science and technology. Life sciences are the most obvious example of that, partly because the UK was already strong in that industry”.
According to Health Secretary Steve Barkley, UK patients could participate in the trial from as early as September.
Mr Barkley said:“This agreement builds on this Government’s promise to increase research and development spending to £20billion per year.”
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He added that the move “demonstrates the UK remains one of the most attractive places in the world for innovative companies to invest in research”.
Prof Türeci and Mr Şahin have previously said part of the reason they chose the UK was because they were impressed by the speed and flexibility of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the first in the Western authority to approve a vaccine for Covid in December 2020.
Along with Genomics England, a government-owned company, NHS England will create a cancer vaccine launch pad to help identify eligible patients.
Prof added “The NHS infrastructure in the UK is exceptional, and it is committed to enabling patients to find for clinical trials and vice versa: to ensure that the clinical trials find the right patients.”
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While BioNTech has been performing clinical trials of its personalised cancer vaccines since 2012, it is looking to expand the scale of its trials to reach its target of having the product ready for approval by 2030.
The treatments have been rolled out in trials in early-stage patients, to prevent their cancer from returning. It has also been used in late-stage patients who do not respond well to other therapies. Last year, the firm announced early positive results in a trial combining the vaccines with another cancer treatment called CAR-T.
Back in the summer, former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told Express.co.uk that Brexit gives the UK the opportunity to “make itself a global centre for medical technology”.
He said: “First of all, we have some of the greatest scientific universities in the world. And we have one of the greatest data sets in the world which is the NHS. Using anonymised data with the best scientists and individuals in the world, this becomes a very attractive option to invest in and do your medical trails, genetic trails…all these things here.
“What the market needs is a proper set of defining regulations, it is not just about deregulation, it is also about setting the terms of regulation.”