A novel cancer vaccine has moved into clinical trials on humans this week. The new treatment uses engineered mRNA to target solid tumors, and is a big step forward not only for cancer treatment, but also for personalized medicine as each vaccine is tailored to each patient and their tumor.
The trial is being carried out by Moderna Therapeutics, with the first Phase 1 trial looking primarily at the safety of the vaccine in humans, while also examining “tolerability” and whether or not the treatment sparks an immune response in patients. It will first involve patients who have had solid tumors that have been removed. Following on from this, they will use patients who have solid tumors that cannot be removed, and see how the vaccine fares.
Each vaccine will be specified to each patient’s cancer. The cells from the tumors are analyzed, and genetic sequencing is used to identify particular mutations in the cells known as neoepitopes. These mutations can help the immune system distinguish between which cells are cancerous and which are healthy, allowing the body itself to fight the disease.
These mutations are then transcribed onto a single piece of mRNA, which is then injected into the body in the form of a vaccine. This in turn helps the patient’s own immune system to better identify the cancerous cells and destroy them.
“An individualized medicine designed to help each patient’s immune system better recognize cancer as foreign and attack it would be a critical addition to oncologists’ treatment arsenal, potentially helping many more patients respond more effectively to treatment,” explains Howard A. Burris III, one of the principle investigators for the new vaccine, called mRNA-4157.
This is not the first cancer vaccine that has been trialled. Last year, there were reports of a “universal” cancer vaccine, with the results from early trials in humans apparently positive. The vaccine seems to work in a similar vein to this latest example.
Personalized medicine is a growing field within research, and aims to develope drugs tailored precisely to the each and every patient. This decreases the chances of negative side effects, as it is based entirely on each person, but comes with some downsides. The main one right now is that of cost. The very nature of personalized medicine means that it cannot be mass produced, and therefore comes with quite a hefty price tag.
It seems, however, that this is likely the direction that many avenues of treatment will take. We’ll just have to wait and see what develops over the next year ahead to determine how successful his latest trial will be.