mRNA technology to fight cancer
Recently, the results of an early human phase clinical trial have shown that mRNA technology can be successfully applied to diseases other than COVID-19, such as skin cancer.
Moderna and Merck used an mRNA anti-cancer vaccine based on the same technology used to develop some COVID-19 vaccines, except that instead of using proteins from a virus to activate the immune system, they used some of the factors produced individually by the tumours owned by each of the patients.
This phase-2b trial involved 157 patients with advanced stage melanoma, who had their tutors removed before starting treatment both with an immunotherapeutic (Pembrolizumab) and receiving the mRNA vaccine against their individual skin cancer. After one year, the combined therapy with the mRNA vaccine reduced the risk of death or recurrence by 44%, compared to those patients who only received the immunotherapy. Also, and very importantly, there appeared to be no significantly increased adverse events in patients receiving the combination therapy (serious treatment-related adverse events occurred in 14.4% of patients who received the combination versus 10% with the immunotherapy alone).
Based on these promising and exciting results, the drug companies are already thinking about requesting the authorities for approval to run a phase 3 study, which would eventually lead to commercialization in case of favourable results.
This all indicates the potential of mRNA technology for the future of personalized medicine. However, as you can imagine personalizing a therapy is not particularly easy, fast or cheap. That is why, as interesting and positive as this is, we will have to wait until this therapeutics first hit the market, and then, they become affordable to everyone in need.