Williams Cancer Institute

Revolutionizing Cancer Treatment: The Potential of Personalized mRNA Vaccines

In early 2020, Angela received her first shot at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and mRNA vaccines became a household name. This shot, using the same mRNA technology now famous for COVID-19 vaccines, was aimed at fighting her melanoma. Angela had multiple malignant moles removed, and along with an immune-stimulating drug, the hope was to prevent the cancer from returning.

Scientists have long aimed to develop cancer vaccines that prevent cancer cells from regrowing, similar to how vaccines train the body to fight viruses. Despite decades of research, success has been limited. Every cancer and every person’s immune system is unique, making it difficult and time-consuming to create personalized vaccines. However, mRNA vaccines offer a faster and more adaptable solution. After Angela’s malignant moles were removed, they were analyzed for specific cancerous “fingerprints” or neoantigens. Using this information, Moderna created a custom mRNA cancer vaccine designed to prevent her cancer from returning.

Angela is part of a clinical trial by Moderna and Merck to determine if this treatment can prevent the return of malignant skin cancer. Early results show that adding a custom mRNA vaccine to a standard immunotherapy drug significantly reduces the likelihood of cancer returning and extends patients’ lifespans. These vaccines do not prevent cancer but rather teach the immune system to recognize and eliminate residual malignant cells. Phase 3 clinical studies are underway for melanoma and a type of lung cancer, with trials for other cancers planned.

Cancer cells, like healthy cells, have various proteins on their surfaces called neoantigens, which can be targeted by therapies. Cancer vaccines work by using these neoantigens to direct the immune system to attack cancer cells. Compared to chemotherapy, which can have severe side effects, cancer vaccines target specific neoantigens, potentially reducing damage to healthy cells. In 2017, small clinical trials showed promising results for personalized vaccines against melanoma.

The challenge has been the time and cost required to make personalized cancer vaccines. This is where mRNA technology comes in, allowing for faster and more cost-effective vaccine development. In the case of Angela’s treatment, her skin cancer was quickly sequenced to identify neoantigens, which were then used to create an mRNA vaccine. Machine learning algorithms helped identify the most promising neoantigens, which were encoded into mRNA and injected to train her immune system.

The combination of mRNA vaccines with an immune-stimulating drug has shown promising results in clinical trials, significantly reducing the risk of cancer recurrence and spread. However, the treatment is not effective for all cancers, particularly those in later stages. Other companies are also developing similar vaccines for different types of cancer, such as BioNTech’s work on pancreatic cancer vaccines.

While the field of cancer vaccines is advancing, challenges remain in selecting the right neoantigens and ensuring the vaccines work for various cancer types. Research continues to explore these questions and expand the potential of mRNA vaccines. For patients like Angela, the initial side effects were worth the outcome. In her mid-40s, she has been cancer-free for three years and is grateful for the treatment that has given her a new lease on life.

Reference: Shelly Fan (2024, junio 26). MRNA cancer vaccines spark renewed hope as clinical trials gain momentum. Singularity Hub. https://singularityhub.com/2024/06/26/mrna-cancer-vaccines-spark-renewed-hope-as-clinical-trials-gain-momentum/?amp=1

Related Posts

Blog 18 de Julio de 2024
Blog 16 de Julio de 2024
bLog 11 de Julio de 2024
1 2 3 117