A Phase II trial of an experimental mRNA cancer vaccine developed by Moderna and Merck has allegedly been successful. According to the businesses, melanoma survivors who received the vaccine alongside immunotherapy were 44% less likely to have their cancer recur or die than those who only received immunotherapy. The data suggest that mRNA vaccines could be an effective cancer treatment, paving the path for larger Phase III trials.
Merck and Moderna revealed the Phase IIb trial results, which included 157 patients with advanced melanoma who had their tumors entirely removed surgically. These patients were randomly divided into two groups and treated for nearly a year. One group received frequent infusions of Merck’s Keytruda, a lab-created antibody that aids immune cells in recognizing and killing specific tumors. The second group received Keytruda as well as nine doses of the vaccine candidate mRNA-4157/V940.
The vaccine and immunotherapy combination allegedly exceeded the researchers’ primary target, with these patients living substantially longer without cancer than those who simply received Keytruda, a metric known as recurrence-free survival. In addition, when paired with Keytruda, the vaccine appeared to cut the combined risk of cancer recurrence and mortality by 44%.
Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, said, “Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma.”
The company said that the safety profile of Keytruda in this trial was consistent with prior research, albeit those on the combo medication did have a greater incidence of major adverse events, 14.4% compared to 10% of patients alone on Keytruda. These dangers are frequently offset by the benefits that immunotherapy can bring to people with incurable malignancies.
There are vaccines available that can prevent important contributors to certain malignancies, such as the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer. Moderna and Merck’s candidate, on the other hand, is an example of a personalized cancer vaccine. These vaccines are intended to keep a person’s existing and difficult-to-cure cancer from returning after treatment.
They are designed to teach the immune system to recognize neoantigens, which are proteins produced exclusively by tumor cells. In this situation, the mRNA platform is utilized to convey instructions to the body’s cells so that they can manufacture these cancer-specific neoantigens. The goal is that in the future, the immune system will target and recall such neoantigens.
Many experts believe that combining these vaccines with immunotherapy treatments will increase their effectiveness. For years, scientists have been interested in tailored cancer vaccines, and this study has been critical in the development of mRNA vaccine technology, even before it was utilized as the basis for covid-19 vaccinations.
However, it has only been in the last few years that they have shown promising enough to be released to the public in the near future. There are now dozens of clinical trials evaluating several vaccine options, with Moderna and Merck’s being the most advanced. But, before that can happen, their vaccine must pass many Phase III trials in order to gain regulatory approval.
According to Moderna, the firms want to disclose the whole trial findings to oncology conferences and regulatory agencies in the near future. The vaccine’s Phase III trials for melanoma patients are planned to begin next year. The firms anticipate that this method can be used for other tough cancers as well.
Merck put $250 million into the venture, while Moderna has $17 billion in cash on hand thanks to the success of its Covid-19 vaccine Spikevax.