Moderna announces success of mRNA skin cancer vaccine
VSFollowing the success of its mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, Moderna announced on December 13 that it had achieved encouraging results by transforming its cancer vaccine technology.
The company said in a Release that among 157 people with stage 3 or 4 melanoma, a personalized cancer vaccine that Moderna developed with Merck — created using mRNA genetic material from each patient’s respective tumors — reduced the 44% risk of recurrence or death compared to standard care.
“For the first time ever, we have evidence that it is possible to mount a functional immune response capable of treating cancer patients from a randomized controlled trial,” said Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna.
In the study, patients were randomly assigned to receive one of two treatments. One group was treated with the drug pembrolizumab, or Keytruda, an existing drug that releases the brake the immune system normally has on attacking cancer cells, since cancer cells grow from the body’s own cells. The other group received Keytruda and a personalized cancer vaccine using mRNA technology. All patients underwent surgery to remove their melanoma, and for the vaccinated group, Moderna scientists biopsied and genetically sequenced these tumors, then identified nearly three dozen genetic and personalized tumor flags, as mRNA, for each patient’s immune system to recognize. These were then combined and injected into patients’ arms, in the same way that the COVID-19 vaccine provided instructions for targeting the virus’ spike protein genes. Except in this case, the immune system has been trained to target and destroy melanoma cells rather than a virus.
In the trial, patients received up to nine doses of the personalized cancer vaccine. “It’s much easier for the immune system to take hold of a virus and prevent viral infection than it is to destroy cancer,” says Hoge. “So it takes a lot more doses for the immune system to build up with the right strength and strength against [cancer] antigens to impact a patient’s cancer.
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Patients were treated and followed for at least two years. So far, the company has only reported patient results, not details of vaccinated patients’ immune responses, such as their levels of T-cells, which the vaccines train to recognize and eliminate disease-causing cells. They collect this data and will provide this analysis in future presentations or publications.
Hoge says the key to the vaccine’s success is that it was tailored to each patient’s tumor, allowing each patient to develop a precise and targeted response to their cancer. The flexibility of mRNA technology makes this possible, as demonstrated by the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. New COVID-19 vaccines with different viral targets were created and manufactured in about six weeks by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, makers of another COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. It also took Moderna scientists about six weeks to generate each personalized mRNA cancer vaccine.
Hoge says patients will be followed for at least another year, and possibly longer after treatment ends. The company’s scientists will monitor the duration of the immune response and its resistance to future recurrences or metastases. If the results are confirmed, Hoge says it may also be possible to use the vaccine in people in earlier stages of the disease, or even in people without melanoma who are at higher risk to prevent them from developing tumors. in the first place.
“We are not there yet, and there is still work to be done to determine if we can push the 44% reduction even further,” he says. “But I think it’s a transformative moment for the field. [of cancer treatment], for the company and, we hope, for the patients. We’ve had great success fighting viruses, but no one has ever shown that mRNA vaccines can work in a randomized controlled cancer trial. We’re starting to show with data that they absolutely can, and they can have a bigger impact in other areas than what they’ve become famous for.
BioNTech has also been working on mRNA cancer vaccines since before the pandemic. Its scientists have tested versions of its vaccine in smaller studies without rigorous controls yet.
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