• August 1, 2021

Exclusive: mRNA Companies are Now Testing Cancer-Fighting Vaccines

 Exclusive: mRNA Companies are Now Testing Cancer-Fighting Vaccines

USA Today reports:
Companies like Moderna and Pfizer’s partner BioNTech, whose names are familiar from COVID-19 vaccines, are using mRNA to spur cancer patients’ bodies to make vaccines that will — hopefully — prevent recurrences and treatments designed to fight off advanced tumors. If they prove effective, which won’t be known for at least another year or two, they could be added to the arsenal of immune therapies designed to get the body to fight off its own tumors…

Over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies around the world have been developing new ways to train the body’s immune system to fight off tumors, particularly melanoma. They had learned how to remove a brake installed by tumors, unleashing the warriors of the immune system. Ten years ago, only about 5% of people with advanced melanoma survived for five years. Now, nearly half make it that long. Trials of mRNA cancer vaccines aim to boost that number even higher by adding soldiers to the fight… Once a tumor has been largely removed through surgery, a vaccine can help generate new immune soldiers known as T cells… A computer algorithm analyzes the mutations distinct to the cancer cells, looking for ones that trigger the production of T cells, said Melissa J. Moore, Moderna’s chief scientific officer, of platform research. So far, she said, Moderna, working with partner Merck, has tested these personalized vaccines in about 100 patients. They aim eventually to make a personalized mRNA vaccine within about 45 days after the patient’s cancer surgery, during their recovery…

Mutated cancer cells have proteins on their surface that can be targeted by an mRNA vaccine. For a tumor that has, say, five common mutations, a patient could get a combination of five of these vaccines. On Friday, BioNTech announced it was launching a new trial for this approach, testing it in 120 melanoma patients Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. The new treatment, given in connection with an antibody from Regeneron, is aimed at four tumor-associated antigens. More than 90% of melanoma tumors contain at least one of the four.
The U.S. federal government now lists 29 studies underway or that will be soon investigating mRNA cancer vaccines, according to the article.

And Dr. Stephen Hahn, who had a career as an oncologist before running the Food and Drug Administration from 2019 until early this year, “said he’s more optimistic this time because of how much researchers have learned about the role the immune system plays in cancer. ‘That gives us an edge to maybe finally get to the place where we need to be.'”

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