December 3, 2023

“Very exciting” results have come out of a recent trial of an experimental vaccine that uses messenger-RNA (mRNA) technology to tackle melanoma skin cancer. It’s still early days, but the data is yet another indication of how mRNA vaccines and personalized cancer treatments hold a huge amount of potential. 

The vaccine has been developed by Merck and Moderna who released data from a Phase 2b trial this week. 

The trial involved 157 patients with stage III/IV melanoma whose tumors were surgically removed before being treated. It concluded that melanoma patients who received the vaccine alongside KEYTRUDA monotherapy treatment had a 44 percent reduction in the risk of disease recurrence or death compared to those who received a KEYTRUDA alone.

Off the back of these results, the companies are now talking to regulatory authorities with the hope of carrying out a Phase 3 study in melanoma in 2023.

“Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement

“We will begin additional studies in melanoma and other forms of cancer with the goal of bringing truly individualized cancer treatments to patients. We look forward to publishing the full data set and sharing the results at an upcoming oncology medical conference, as well as with health authorities,” Bancel added. 

The mRNA platform used in this cancer vaccine, which is yet to be named, is loosely similar to the technology used in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. mRNA vaccines work by carrying instructions that tell the body to produce particular proteins. These proteins are then clocked by the immune system as a foreign threat and antibodies are produced to fight it. 

Instead of priming the body to attack a virus, however, an mRNA-based cancer vaccine teaches the body to target abnormal proteins associated with cancer. Since every cancer is unique, each individual’s vaccine needs to be personalized to tackle their individual cancer. This can be a costly process, but it appears it can produce results. 

“The use of the game-changing mRNA vaccine technology in increasing response to immunotherapy drugs is very exciting. The study used a personalised cancer vaccine to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy in metastatic skin cancer, showing that it was well tolerated and seemed to reduce the rate of recurrence of the cancer,” commented Dr Andrew Beggs, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon and Cancer Research UK Advanced Clinician Scientist at the University of Birmingham, who was not involved with the trial. 

“Although early data, it is very encouraging that this is a likely effective treatment option in the future. This advance is likely to have important implications for metastatic cancer patients in the future, and opens a new therapeutic avenue for these patients,” he added.


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