Personalized Skin Cancer Vaccine

Two major pharmaceutical companies are testing a personalized vaccine that might prevent the recurrence of a specific type of skin cancer. Moderna, one of the companies behind the COVID-19 vaccine, and Merck, an enterprise focused largely on oncology and preventative medicines, are teaming up to see if they can reduce the public’s risk of re-developing the deadliest form of skin cancer: melanoma.

The vaccine essentially combines two medical technologies: the mRNA vaccine and Merck’s Keytruda. As with the COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA shots don’t require an actual virus. Instead, they use a disease’s genetic code to “teach” the immune system to recognize and fight that particular illness. This makes it relatively easy and inexpensive for scientists to develop mRNA vaccines and edit them if a new form of the disease emerges. Keytruda, meanwhile, is a prescription medication that helps prevent melanoma from coming back after known cancer cells have been surgically removed.

Moderna and Merck are testing the feasibility of not only creating a two-in-one drug with both technologies but also customizing individual vaccines to suit their respective patients. Each vaccine is engineered to activate the patient’s immune system, which in turn deploys T cells (a type of white blood cell known to fight cancer) that go after the specific mutations of a patient’s tumor. Keytruda assists this effort by barring certain cell proteins from getting in the way of T cells’ intervention.

The experimental drug is currently in its second clinical trial out of three. The trial involves 157 participants with high-risk melanoma who just successfully underwent surgical removal. Some of the participants were given the personalized vaccine, while others were given Keytruda alone. Moderna and Merck will observe whether the participants’ melanoma returns over the span of approximately one year, with primary data expected at the end of this year.

If a vaccine preventing the recurrence of melanoma does in fact become commercially available, it could prevent more than 7,000 deaths per year in the US alone.

Source: https://www.extremetech.com/

The Drugmaker Merck Says Its Antiviral Pill Is Effective Against Coronavirus

The drug maker says its pill was shown in a clinical trial to cut the risk of hospitalization or death from the virus in half. Australia is accelerating plans to ease international travel restrictions for its citizens and permanent residents.

The drug maker Merck said on Friday that it would seek authorization for the first antiviral pill for Covid after its drug, known as molnupiravir, was shown in a clinical trial to cut the risk of hospitalization or death in half when given to high-risk people early in their infections.

The treatment could become the first in a wave of antiviral pill products, which experts say could offer a powerful new tool in efforts to tame the pandemic, as they could reach more people than the antibody treatments that are being widely used in the United States for similar patients.

I think it will translate into many thousands of lives being saved worldwide, where there’s less access to monoclonal antibodies, and in this country, too,” said Dr. Robert Shafer, an infectious disease specialist and expert on antiviral therapy at Stanford University.

Late-stage study results of two other antiviral pills, one developed by Pfizer and the other by Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche, are expected within the next few months.

The Merck drug, which is designed to stop the coronavirus from replicating, is to be taken as four capsules twice a day for five days.

Merck said an independent board of experts monitoring its study data had recommended that its trial be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing. The company said that the Food and Drug Administration had agreed with that decision.

For the research, the monitors looked at data through early August, when the study had enrolled 775 volunteers in the United States and overseas. For volunteers who received the drug, their risk of being hospitalized or dying fell 50 percent, without any concerning side effects, compared with those who received placebo pills, Merck said in a news release announcing the findings.

Seven percent of volunteers in the group that received the drug were hospitalized, and none of them died, compared with a 14 percent rate of hospitalization and death — including eight deaths — in the group that received the placebo.

The Merck pill’s efficacy was lower than that of monoclonal antibody treatments, which mimic antibodies that the immune system generates naturally when fighting the virus. Those drugs have been in high demand recently, but they are expensive, are typically given intravenously, and have proved cumbersome and labor-intensive for hospitals and clinics to administer. Studies have shown that they reduce hospitalizations and deaths 70 to 85 percent in similar high-risk Covid patients.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/