Thank you, science.
This morning, Moderna announced good news on the vaccine front: The pharmaceutical company shared that its experimental mRNA skin cancer vaccine — when combined with Merck immunotherapy medication — reduced the rate of recurrence and death from melanoma by 44% in patients with stage 3 and 4 skin cancer.
The trial enrolled 157 skin cancer patients who had already undergone surgery to remove malignant tumors. Select patients chosen at random were given both the vaccine and immunotherapy (in this case, the brand name Keytruda), while the rest were only given the latter. The trial groups participated in this study for one year The vaccine, which contains mRNA — a “messenger” that delivers the blueprint for creating specific proteins to the body’s cells — is also found in the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, as well as a potential HIV vaccine that’s in trials.
"Today's results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's Chief Executive Officer, said in a news release. “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.” Bancel added the company will continue with more studies in melanoma and other cancers.
Not all cancer vaccines are personalized, but this one is. Its focus is not to prevent skin cancer, but to reduce the recurrence rate in those who were previously diagnosed. But as stated earlier, the vaccine — which, with help from mRNA, helps the body generate T cell responses that are specific to the tumor mutation — can only work in conjunction with immunotherapy, which helps boost the body’s immune system.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.; approximately 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and it’s estimated that 1 in 5 of people will develop it in their lifetime. Needless to say, a promising potential vaccine is huge news.
"These positive findings represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Moderna," said Dr. Dean Y. Li, president, Merck Research Laboratories. "Over the last six years, our teams have worked closely together combining our respective expertise in mRNA and immuno-oncology with a focus on improving outcomes for patients with cancer. We look forward to advancing this program into the next phase of development."
Moderna and Merck said they hope to initiate a Phase 3 study — which is typically viewed as the last or second-to-last clinical study before undergoing regulators’ approval process — in 2023.