Cancer vaccine test offers hope although UK could struggle with logistics | Fieldfisher
Skip to main content

Cancer vaccine test offers hope although UK could struggle with logistics

Jenny Urwin
Uplifting news in the race to develop a cancer vaccine as major biopharmaceutical companies Moderna in the US and Germany's BioNTech recently reported positive early clinical data from testing personalised modified-ribonucleic-acid vaccines, or mRNA vaccines – similar to that used so successfully in the COVID 19 vaccine. Decades of clinical investigations now show promise as biopharma publishes exciting recent results.

Moderna and Merck, also based in Germany, announced positive results from a 157-patient phase 2b trial named KEYNOTE-942 in December.

The biopharma giants said a combination of their personalised mRNA cancer vaccine and the PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda (a humanised antibody used in cancer immunotherapy, already proven to be successful) has significantly reduced the risk of recurrence or death by 44 per cent compared with Keytruda alone when used as a follow-up therapy in stage 3/4 melanoma after surgical resection. PD-1 is a protein found on T cells (a type of immune cell) that helps keep the body's immune responses in check.

Moderna has developed a personalised vaccine adapted to fit the genetic mutation profile of each patient’s tumour, whereby it takes the name 'personalised' or 'modified'. The increase in exposure means that the immune system can better target the antigens and treat the mutated cells.

Moderna's chief medical officer told BBC:

"This is a significant finding. It's the first randomised-trial testing of an mRNA therapeutic in cancer patients….It's shown a 44% relative reduction in the risk of dying of cancer or having your cancer progress…It has the potential to be a 'new paradigm' in the treatment of cancer patients."

This mRNA technology has inspired hope in the move towards developing a vaccine to treat or prevent growth of various types of cancer. Despite the recent milestones, the cancer vaccine is still premature. Findings have not yet been scrutinised by independent experts or regulators and some have concerns as to the likely costs of producing such vaccines, raising questions over its accessibility. However, the recent revelations have certainly created a platform to continue to investigate and develop this field further.

The UK is making ambitious plans to accelerate research into mRNA cancer vaccines, with the help of BioNTech. It is hoped that the personalised vaccine will be administered to 10,000 patients by 2030. BioNTech and the UK is felt to be the ideal partnership in this pioneering movement following the successful roll-out of coronavirus jabs and treatment during the pandemic.

Cancer Research UK has welcomed the news, although stress that the current catastrophic delays to diagnosis and treatment of cancer within the NHS highlight potential issues with UK resources, given the limited timeframe in which to set up the necessary clinical trials.

A cancer vaccine would clearly revolutionise global medicine forever. There is no doubt that the increasing social and economic impacts of cancer treatment and death are already agonising, which will only continue to get worse. Chemotherapy currently costs the NHS an estimated £1.4 billion per year and there are around 170,000 cancer deaths in the UK each year.

Read more about our delayed cancer diagnosis claims and case studies from our award-winning team of medical negligence solicitors in Manchester: