Helping to develop a Covid-19 vaccine

20 May 2020

Beating cancer remains Cancer Research UK’s priority – but the charity can’t fully focus on its mission until Covid-19 is behind us. That’s why Dr Alan Parker and his team, who are funded by Cancer Research UK, are helping to develop a vaccine.

Dr Alan Parker

At Cardiff University, Dr Parker’s team normally examine how viruses destroy cancer cells. It’s a technique the lab has been perfecting for several years, but their work was brought to a temporary halt by the Covid-19 outbreak. Like many other scientists working at home, Dr Parker and his team looked for ways they could use their skills to aid research into coronavirus.

“As scientists, we’re all wondering how we can contribute,” says Dr Parker. “Everyone feels the same. Our role is just a small part of the huge effort that’s underway to help fight this virus.”

“Our aim is to produce potential vaccines and then pass these on to immunologists to test to see if they are able to induce an immune response that can protect against coronavirus infection.”

Dr Parker’s lab is particularly interested in a family of viruses called adenoviruses, which could lead to a vaccine for Covid-19. In most people, adenoviruses cause relatively mild conditions, such as an upset stomach or a cold (depending on the type of virus).

As part of their research into viruses that destroy cancer cells, Dr Parker’s lab has freezers packed full of hundreds of adenoviruses. Many of these viruses were deemed unsuitable for treating cancer but are now being used to help find a Covid-19 vaccine.

Using Covid-19 research to beat cancer

Covid-19 is delaying cancer research and treatment – helping to fight it is one of the best things we can do right now to support people affected by cancer. That’s why some of Cancer Research UK’s scientists and research community have joined the national and global effort to combat Covid-19.

Although they might seem like two separate worlds, Dr Parker thinks that his team’s work on a Covid-19 vaccine will give them a better understanding of how adenoviruses can be used to treat cancer.

“We will take that knowledge into the cancer setting to look at how the body can respond when you provide a tumour antigen in the same way, and how it can then mount an anti-cancer response. So, it all kind of feeds together,” says Dr Parker.

Cancer doesn’t stop during Covid-19

Meanwhile, outside the lab, Cancer Research UK is doing everything it can to support people affected by cancer at this difficult time.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Cancer Research UK’s helpline hasn’t stopped ringing. “We’re an information and support helpline, so we’re here to help people understand what’s happening to them,” says Martin Ledwick, who heads up Cancer Research UK’s information nurse team. “Coronavirus is a very significant issue for people with cancer as well as the general public.” 

While more helpline calls have focused on coronavirus, the team also continue to help people with screening results, cancer side effects, worrying symptoms and everything in between. Martin says, “Despite the fact that we have the pandemic going on at the moment, people still have cancer and they still have questions about that too.”  

Save lives by supporting Cancer Research UK

Throughout all of this, Cancer Research UK remains tirelessly committed to beating cancer, but they won’t be able to continue funding their life-saving work without support.

With lockdown forcing Cancer Research UK to close their shops and postpone events, their fundraising has taken a huge hit, with donations predicted to decline by up to 25% in the next year.

Cancer Research UK needs your help more than ever, to continue saving lives through research and supporting people affected by cancer.

To find out more about supporting Cancer Research UK, please visit cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/donate