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/

Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of cancers, with few treatment options. Now, an mRNA vaccine treatment, called autogene cevumeran, that is tailored to each individual’s cancer has produced promising results in a small initial trial.

In the trial, 16 people were given the vaccine around nine weeks after having an operation to remove their tumours. In eight, the vaccine didn’t elicit an effective immune response and their cancers returned. But in the other eight, the vaccine resulted in a good response and they remained cancer-free 18 months later. The results were announced by the vaccine’s developer, BioNTech, on 5 June.

This is a very small initial trial. Larger and longer trials will be needed to confirm the result. The trial only involved people whose cancers were detected early enough that they could undergo an operation to remove tumours before they spread to other parts of the body. Only around 10 per cent of people are diagnosed at this stage, says Chris Macdonald, head of research at charity Pancreatic Cancer UK. In other words, even if larger trials confirm these initial results, it remains to be seen if this vaccine can help people with more advanced pancreatic cancer – though that is, of course, the hope.

The problem is that the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague, says Macdonald. By the time it is detected, 70 per cent of people are so ill that it is too late for any treatment.

Source: https://www.newscientist.com/