Preliminary Study Shows Promise for Moderna’s Skin Cancer Vaccine

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When eggheads claimed the best part of the COVID vaccines was the developments in mRNA science, they weren’t lying. It might even cure skin cancer.

On Tuesday, Moderna announced encouraging results in an early study of its mRNA vaccine that could help prevent the recurrence of melanoma — and said the tech could likely be applied to other types of cancers as well

Skin in the Game

To be clear, Moderna’s vaccine wouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all, vaccinate-everyone-at-birth big swing to eradicate skin cancer. Preventing recurrence is the key phrase, and the vaccine is developed specifically to work in conjunction with Keytruda, a cancer immunotherapy treatment from Merck, to reduce relapse or death for patients following surgical procedures to remove melanoma. But for the millions of cancer survivors who remain at high-risk for another bout with the disease, the development could be lifesaving.

Scientifically speaking, Moderna’s new jab flips the vaccine equation on its head. The injection is technically designed to help treat diseases rather than prevent infections — yet another development that could radically change medical science. The process for applying the vaccine remains complicated to say the least, but the early study results are worthy of attention:

  • The 150-volunteer study, which still needs to be peer-reviewed, found that combining the vaccine with Keytruda reduced the risk of relapse or death for patients by about 44% when compared to patients who take Keytruda alone.
  • Each shot, however, is uniquely designed for each patient. Moderna starts each case by conducting a biopsy of a patient’s tumor, then incorporates specific genetic codes into the vaccine best designed to trigger the strongest immune response from each patient to target and destroy cancer cells — not unlike how its COVID vaccine helped the body identify and destroy the coronavirus.

The company says it’s planning Phase 3 trials early next year, paving the way for regulatory approval.

Run it Back: Moderna’s stock ticker unsurprisingly spiked yesterday on the news it may have another blockbuster on its hands. But in truth, its last blockbuster, the COVID jab, was an unexpected diversion for the company from what had been a years-long process to bring the mRNA cancer vaccine to fruition. Moderna and Merck launched a Phase 2 trial of the jab way back in 2019, and now they’re ready to finish what they started — with the possibility to expand beyond just skin cancer treatment. While Keytruda is a leading drug to combat melanoma, it’s used in all types of other cancer and lymphoma treatments as well. Its successful pairing with Moderna’s jab in one type of patient leaves plenty of optimism for similar vaccines to fight other types of cancers. Good riddance.