Newsroom / CNA
In a mid-stage trial, Moderna Inc and Merck & Co announced on Monday that the addition of their experimental mRNA-based vaccine has shown a 65% reduction in the risk of spreading the deadliest form of skin cancer when used in combination with immunotherapy alone. These results, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, build upon earlier promising data from the trial, revealing a 44% decrease in the risk of melanoma death or recurrence when the customized mRNA vaccine is combined with Merck's Keytruda, compared to Keytruda alone.
The findings contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the use of mRNA technology, which gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, in developing personalized vaccines that train the immune system to target specific cancer cells present in a patient's tumors.
Experts believe that combining mRNA vaccines, which can be produced in a short period of eight weeks, with immune-boosting drugs could pave the way for a new era of cancer treatments. Dr. Jane Healy, a Merck executive overseeing early cancer therapy development, expressed optimism for "an entirely new paradigm of cancer treatment that will be better tolerated and tailored to individual patient tumors."
The collaboration between Merck and Moderna is one of several partnerships that leverage potent immune-releasing drugs and mRNA vaccine technology to target cancers. Similar approaches using mRNA technology are being pursued by BioNTech SE, Pfizer's COVID vaccine partner, and Gritstone Bio Inc.
All these vaccines are designed to target neoantigens, which are novel mutations found exclusively in tumors. By focusing on these unique proteins, the immune system can effectively eliminate cancer cells while preserving healthy tissue.
However, identifying the specific mutation that drives the cancer is a challenging task. Tumors are typically surgically removed and their genetic composition is analyzed using advanced DNA sequencing techniques. Artificial intelligence is utilized by companies to predict the mutations that are most likely to be effective targets. Based on these predictions, personalized vaccines are created to specifically target the mutations present in the patient's tumor.
During this process, patients typically receive immunotherapy such as Roche's Keytruda or Tecentriq, which block the mechanisms that cancer cells employ to evade detection by the immune system.