A cancer vaccine that uses the same technology as Covid shots has been shown to slash the risk of tumors returning in advanced melanoma patients.
The shot, combined with an immunotherapy drug, reduced the chance of relapse or death in sufferers after surgery by 44 percent, compared to the drug on its own.
Using pieces of genetic code from patients’ tumors, the vaccine effectively ‘teaches’ the body to fight off cancer. Every shot is tailored to a specific patient, meaning no two will be the same.
Pharma giants Merck and Moderna – who are co-developing the technological advance – heralded the results as a ‘tremendous step forward’ and a ‘new paradigm’ moment.
They will now ‘rapidly’ seek approval for a final stage clinical trial that will confirm the vaccine’s efficacy on a much larger group of patients. If successful, it could be approved within six months of the study’s end.
They added that the results are statistically significant, but have not been reviewed by independent scientists.
Nevertheless, it suggests promise for an emerging but unproven class of vaccines that aim to treat diseases rather than prevent infections, as typical vaccines do.
The companies are already making plans to test the vaccine on other cancers.
It works using DNA taken via a biopsy of each patient’s tumor.
Then it analyzes the cancer sample and identifies mutations in the tumor’s cells known as neoepitopes.
Moderna selects several dozen neoepitopes that it believes would generate the strongest immune response from a patient, and inserts the genetic codes for these neoepitopes into a vaccine.
The vaccine uses messenger RNA — the molecule that carries a cell’s instructions for making proteins.
Once inside the body, the mRNA instructs the patient’s cells to make the neoepitopes.