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New therapy shows promise in treatment of liver cancer thanks to Highland scientist

By Andrew Dixon

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Professor Jun Wei.
Professor Jun Wei.

An innovation developed by a Highland scientist is showing promising results in the treatment of liver cancer.

Jun Wei, a professor of genetics at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has devised a kit for screening blood bank stock for samples with high levels of a cancer-fighting antibody. Plasma with high levels of the antibody can be infused into patients to kill liver cancer cells.

Trials in China, which has more than half of the world’s population of liver cancer patients, have shown that people who received the new therapy survive, on average, one year longer than those who have received conventional treatment. This represents a significant increase in the life expectancy of these patients, with the average survival period increasing from 20 months to 32 months.

The University of the Highlands and Islands recently signed an agreement to licence the technology to Qingdao Hailanshen Biotechnology, the Chinese company which has supported the clinical trials over the last three years. The company will conduct further trials to allow the therapy to be approved for use across China.

Prof Wei is now looking to collaborate with other organisations to bring the technology to the rest of the world. He is also hoping to extend the technology by investigating whether kits can be developed to help treat other types of cancer.

The University of the Highlands and Islands was awarded £9 million from the UK government, as part of the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal, to establish commercialisation, academic and clinical capacity to deliver projects in health, social care and life sciences.

Speaking about the development, Prof Wei said: “This is a promising immunotherapy for cancer treatment with anti-cancer antibodies from our own blood. Based on clinical trials carried out in China, this therapy could not only extend the survival of cancer patients, but also improve the quality of their life due to the little side effects observed.”

Professor Ian Megson, head of health research and innovation at the university’s division of health research, said: “Development of this technology represents an enormous step forward for health research at the university. We look forward to the conclusion of the clinical trial in China and to uptake of the technology globally.

“The potential to develop similar therapies in other hard-to-treat cancers such as pancreatic and breast cancer is exciting.”

Scottish secretary David Mundell said: “This really exciting news shows how vital it is that we continue to push the boundaries in life sciences and help today’s innovations become the medicines and treatments of tomorrow. It’s fantastic that UK government funding is contributing towards this in the Highlands.

“The UK government is supporting life sciences across Scotland, investing £9 million in this project in Inverness, as well as supporting new centres for medicines manufacturing and bio-therapeutics in Renfrewshire and Aberdeen.

“We are working to create opportunities, jobs and long-term growth right across Scotland, and so far have committed more than £1.35 billion in city and growth deals to help achieve this.”

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