Pioneering cancer vaccine trials signal a new era in treatment

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LONDON, Feb 4: In a groundbreaking development, a new mRNA cancer vaccine, named mRNA-4359 and developed by Moderna, is undergoing trials in the UK, offering potential advancements in cancer treatment. Scientists believe this could signify the “dawn of a new age” in combatting the disease.

Turbocharged by the accelerated development of vaccine technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, British patients are participating in a global trial to assess the safety and efficacy of the mRNA-4359 vaccine. This initiative holds the promise of ushering in a new era of readily available and effective cancer therapies.

mRNA-4359, specifically designed for individuals with advanced melanoma, lung cancer, and other solid tumor cancers, is part of a broader effort to create “off-the-shelf” cancer therapies. Unlike personalized vaccines created for individual patients, this vaccine targets specific types of cancer more broadly, allowing for faster and more efficient production.

The first UK participant, an 81-year-old man from Surrey with treatment-resistant malignant melanoma, received the vaccine at Hammersmith Hospital in late October. His decision to engage in the trial reflects a commitment to proactive involvement in his treatment.

The Mobilize trial, recruiting 40 to 50 patients globally, including locations in London, Spain, the US, and Australia, aims to test the vaccine’s effectiveness alone and in combination with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda). The mRNA within the vaccine “teaches” the immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells.

Dr. Kyle Holen, head of development, therapeutics, and oncology at Moderna, expressed optimism that the vaccine may extend its effectiveness to various cancers beyond the current trial, such as head-neck cancer, bladder cancer, and kidney cancer.

Dr. David Pinato of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust highlighted the precision and specificity of cancer vaccines, particularly in providing written instructions to the immune system. The advantage of mRNA technology lies in the body’s ability to produce these instructions, awakening the immune system.

The success of mRNA technology in developing COVID-19 vaccines has propelled the development of cancer vaccines. Moderna, having treated over a billion patients with their COVID-19 vaccine, aims to leverage this experience for cancer treatment, ensuring extensive safety data.

Early indications suggest that side effects from Moderna’s cancer vaccines are milder than expected with other immunotherapies. The Mobilize trial is ongoing, with results expected next year. Dr. Holen emphasized the potential for mRNA technology to revolutionize cancer treatment, providing effective and less toxic therapies.

The UK’s health secretary, Victoria Atkins, acknowledged the vaccine’s potential to save lives and transform cancer treatment. However, experts remain uncertain about individual responses to vaccines and the reasons behind varied outcomes, underscoring the need for ongoing research in this groundbreaking field.

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