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Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Preliminary Study

Moderna mRNA drugmaker Headquarters
mRNA Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Preliminary Study Credit: Fletcher CC BY 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Drugmakers Moderna and Merck said their mRNA cancer vaccine portrayed tremendous results during a preliminary study.

During the announcement on Tuesday, the drugmakers said the potential skin cancer vaccine messenger RNA was developed using the same technology behind COVID-19 preventive shots.

Having proved vital in the development of vaccines against COVID-19 scientists believed the mRNA technology could help fight other viruses and diseases like cancer.

The drug is a combination of the vaccine and Merck’s immunotherapy Keytruda led to a statistically significant improvement in recurrence-free survival time in patients with phase three or four melanoma who had the tumors removed in surgery.

Melanoma is the worst form of skin cancer with nearly 325,000 new cases diagnosed in 2020.

However, Moderna said in a statement that close to 8,000 people are expected to die from melanoma in 2022.

mRNA Cancer Vaccine tried on over 150 people

During a preliminary trial, up to nine doses of the experimental vaccine alongside the skin cancer treatment Keytruda were administered to over 150 people who had had their melanoma tumor surgically removed.

The drug makers said a 44% reduction in the risk of death or cancer returning was observed in the group of patients that took the potential vaccine and Keytruda.

Moderna‘s Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel, said, “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.” He added.

However, the results from the study have not yet been peer-reviewed, therefore, the drugmakers will soon publish the full results.

Solo mRNA vaccine 4
Credit: Spencerbdavis CC BY 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

How the mRNA Vaccine works

mRNA is a molecule within cells that carries instructions to form proteins, therefore, scientists can design them to make a particular protein in the body that can help fight viruses among other illnesses.

mRNA Vaccines help to prevent infection by preparing the body to fight foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens.

Moderna and drugmaker Pfizer-BioNTech were the first to use the technology to create the mRNA vaccines used to fight COVID-19.

The potential cancer vaccine aims to train a patient’s immune system to recognize and respond specifically to mutations in their tumor.

In a statement, Moderna said, the melanoma vaccine is tailor-made to “prime the immune system so that a patient can generate a tailored antitumor response specific to their tumor mutation signature.”

The two companies agreed in October to jointly develop the personalized skin cancer vaccine, for which they will share costs and profits.

The drug makers expect to start a phase 3 study of the combination in 2023 which will generally be the last and largest clinical study before a drug is submitted to regulators for approval.

It’s worth noting that shares of Moderna jumped more than 8% in premarket trading, while Merck rose more than 2% and futures indexes increased slightly due to the positive results from the vaccine.

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