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Vaxinc: harnessing the power of natural killer cells in cancer therapies

Our immune system protects us from a variety of diseases, including cancer. Immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment which works by helping the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells.

With the current market for cancer immunotherapy estimated to become worth more than 110 billion dollars by 2021, scientists and doctors around the world are researching new ways to use immunotherapy. Natural killer cells (NK cells) are a type of white blood cell which exist in our immune system and play a major role in the rejection of both tumours and virally infected cells.

Vaxinc, an immunotherapy research group within the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine, are pioneering a new and unique vaccination strategy that aims to deliver protection against cancer. NK cells express many different receptors and can react in a number of different ways when stimulated through one receptor. Vaxinc have discovered a new way that NK cells respond to small viral peptides, which allows them to be targeted and switched on through a simple vaccination strategy. This can be used to combat not only cancer but a number of diseases. “This is an emerging area, which only a few experts around the world really understand,” explains founder Professor Salim Khakoo.

Current NK cell therapies require expensive, specialist facilities to manufacture and are time-consuming to administer. “The cost is beyond the reach of many health authorities making them inaccessible to most individuals,” Salim explains.

While other researchers around the world are treating patients in trials with off-the-shelf NK cells, Vaxinc are taking a different approach. The team are developing an NK cell-based vaccine that can be far more cost-effective and have a much wider reach compared to current products.

Their research has also shown that NK cells can recognise a key part of many different viruses, including global pathogens such as Dengue, Zika, Yellow Fever and Hepatitis C. This demonstrates that NK cells can be harnessed to combat not only cancer but diseases as well. “Our vaccine strategy is a step change in the opportunity for NK cell therapy because it can be easily deployed in the community, which removes the need for expensive specialist facilities,” Salim explains.

Salim and his team want to change the way the world fights cancer and global disease and are keen to hear from mentors and potential industry partners to help make this idea a commercial reality. You can get in touch with Salim through the contact form on this page.

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Salim Khakoo

Professor of Hepatology
University of Southampton

Salim is Professor of Hepatology within the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine. A Director of Biomedical Research, his research into chronic liver disease and immunology has advanced our knowledge of natural killer cells. He is working to introduce a Stanford-sytle enterprise culture in Southampton through innovative new programmes.

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