Moderna, Merck see positive results from skin cancer vaccine

Some 8,000 people are expected to die from melanoma in 2022. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

WASHINGTON - The Moderna and Merck drug makers on Tuesday announced positive results from a trial in which messenger RNA technology was used for the first time to make personalised vaccines for skin cancer patients.

The mRNA technology proved vital in the development of vaccines against Covid-19, and scientists have long believed it could help fight other viruses and diseases like cancer.

In a preliminary trial, 150 people who had had their melanoma tumour surgically removed were given up to nine doses of the experimental vaccine alongside the skin cancer treatment Keytruda.

The study showed a 44 per cent reduction in risk of death or relapse compared to patients who were only treated with Keytruda, an immunotherapy medicine.

“Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment,” Moderna’s chief executive officer Stephane Bancel, said in a statement.

“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 randomised clinical trial in melanoma.”

Moderna and Merck, known as MSD outside of North America, will soon publish the full results of the study, the results of which have not yet been peer-reviewed. The companies will also launch a Phase 3 trial in 2023, which involves a larger number of patients.

Messenger RNA is a molecule within cells that carries instructions to form proteins. Scientists can design them to make a particular protein in the body that can help fight viruses and other illnesses.

Moderna and drugmaker Pfizer-BioNTech were the first to use the technology to create the mRNA vaccines used to fight Covid-19.

The melanoma vaccine is tailor-made to “prime the immune system so that a patient can generate a tailored antitumour response specific to their tumour mutation signature,” said Moderna’s statement.

Melanoma is the worst form of skin cancer, and nearly 325,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2020. Some 8,000 people are expected to die from melanoma in 2022, said the statement.

Moderna and Merck agreed in October to jointly develop the personalised skin cancer vaccine, for which they will share costs and profits. AFP

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