A POTENTIALLY life-saving cancer vaccine is being trialled for the first time in Southampton.

Michael Knowlton made medical history as the first person in the world to test a vaccine for his head and neck cancer, HPV 16, as part of an immunotherapy clinical trial by the University of Southampton.

It was an irritating cough which first prompted the 63-year-old, a company director, to visit his doctor in 2014, and tests later confirmed it was cancer.

What followed was a procedure to remove the tumour from the back of his tongue which left him in intensive care.

At the end of gruelling rounds of chemo and radiotherapy he was told should the cancer return, his options for further treatment were limited.

Michael said: “I was told there wasn’t much else that could be done if it came back, I couldn’t have any more chemo or radiation and that was a bit of a kicker.

“You think there has got to be a way so I asked if there was a research program I could get on rather than sit and wait for nature to take its course.”

It was then that Michael was referred to the clinical trial by the University of Southampton.

Michael said: “When I found out I was a candidate, as the trial was for the type of viral cancer which I had, for me that was like all my lottery numbers coming in at once.”

Michael took part in the first phase of the trial which recruited disease-free patients to see how they reacted to the vaccine in terms of side effects and to establish dose levels.

The father-of-three said it was a ‘no-brainer’ taking part. He said: “There was no way you would be foolish to say, ‘no I don’t want any of that’. Yes, there was a risk factor but you have to go for it.”

The trial was funded by Cancer Research UK. The vaccine ‘kick-starts’ the immune system to recognise the HPV16 cancer and destroy it before it has a chance to develop.

University of Southampton research sister Cristiana Goncalves said: “People like Michael are really special, these patients are all volunteers and Michael is currently disease-free. He doesn’t need to do this, it is purely for research which makes them even more special.”

She added: “To think that in ten or 20 years’ time we might be able to vaccinate kids or teenagers and that might prevent head and neck cancer from happening then that makes us happy to come to work and do these trials.”

The university will also see its centre for cancer immunology opening next year.

The first of its kind in the UK, it will provide cutting edge facilities for pioneering researchers.

Michael, from Poole, said: “You have got to be so proud that it is here in Southampton. Everyone can feed off each other and lessons learned in one department could be converted to the benefit of other trials.”