The new drug, which targets pancreatic cancer but could be just as effective at treating other kinds of tumours, is to be tested on humans by the Cambridge university team later this year.
If the trials are successful, the therapy, which destroys a protective coating around the diseased cells, could be available to patients within a decade.
Research leader Dr Douglas Fearon said: ‘By enabling the body to use its own defences to attack cancer, this approach has the potential to greatly improve treatment of solid tumours.
‘That is not just restricted to pancreatic cancer but would be effective in many forms, including ovarian and lung cancer, because they react similarly.’
Pancreatic cancer, which killed Apple founder Steve Jobs and actor Patrick Swayze, is the fifth most lethal cancer in Britain, killing 7,900 people a year.
Only four per cent of sufferers survive beyond five years after diagnosis.
It is rarely detected early and is often too advanced to be treated, but the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute researchers believe their new drug, known as AMD3100 or Plerixafor, could work even with late diagnoses.
It breaks down a thick wall of chemokine protein which forms a protective barrier around pancreatic cancer cells and prevents the body’s T cells from breaking through to attack the tumour.
Plerixafor is used with other drugs which boost the helpful T cells’ activity.
In tests on mice, virtually all tumours were wiped out within six days – the first time this has been achieved in pancreatic cancer research.
Human trials are expected to start later this year at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Alex Ford, chief executive of the Pancreatic Cancer UK charity, said: ‘This research represents an exciting breakthrough – proving it is possible for cancer-attacking cells to get through to a pancreatic tumour.’
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