Coronavirus Vaccine – Coronavirus vaccine success is helping to accelerate mRNA cancer vaccines
First-of-their-kind mRNA coronavirus vaccines, which have now been administered to hundreds of millions of people nationwide, are helping to accelerate the use of similar medical advancements in cancer care — which can serve as an important step to a cure, according to a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute specialist.
“The tools and methods that helped develop the COVID vaccines will be usable and translatable to other fields including cancer,” said Dr. David Braun, a Dana-Farber oncologist whose research focuses on immune therapies for kidney cancer.
Braun described mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, as a set of instructions for cells. If we know the instruction set for cancer, we could find an Achilles’ heel that makes it vulnerable. So an mRNA cancer vaccine with the right instructions could steer the immune system to attack the cancer, said Braun.
It’s not as easy as with the coronavirus vaccines, though. Braun explained that there’s no universal target in cancer patients like there is with coronavirus. A target for one tumor might be entirely different from another.
“The challenge there is rather than making a universal vaccine, often you have to think about personalized approaches,” Braun said.
Braun said he’s cautiously optimistic about the potential for mRNA cancer vaccines, and recent research has expressed similar optimism.
“With the recent U.S. FDA’s approval of two mRNA-based vaccines from Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna for emergency use in COVID-19 prevention, the mRNA vaccine field will encompass a dramatic rise in the market value and will attract widespread interest in both cancer and infectious disease application,” researchers wrote in a February paper published in BioMed Central.
An April publication in Cancer Network stated that the mRNA coronavirus vaccines mark “the beginning of a new era not only for the infectious disease field but also for oncology.”
Cambridge biotech company Moderna, now famous for its mRNA coronavirus vaccine, has been working on personalized cancer vaccines for years.
Moderna’s platform finds mutations on a patient’s cancer cells and creates a vaccine that encodes for such mutations, which are then loaded onto a single mRNA molecule.
Moderna currently has several clinical trials in the works for personalized cancer vaccines in participants with melanoma and various types of tumors.
MRNA vaccines have the potential to work on all different types of cancers, said Braun.
He said mRNA cancer vaccines aren’t likely to be a silver bullet on their own. “I think history has taught us that unfortunately cancer is clever enough to get around most of the treatments we have.”
However, he said building on new generation of immune therapy is an important puzzle piece as doctors and researchers strive for a cure.