Following the pandemic, emerging vaccine technology has been turbocharged and now British patients are among a global cohort enlisted to trial a cancer vaccine
An experimental vaccine being trialled in the UK could help beat high-risk forms of different cancers, experts have said.
Following the pandemic, emerging vaccine technology has been turbocharged and now British patients are among a global cohort enlisted to trial the safety and efficacy of a vaccine experts hope could lead to a new generation of “off-the-shelf” cancer therapies.
An 81-year-old man from Surrey with incurable skin cancer became the first person dosed in October. The vaccine, named mRNA-4359 and produced by Moderna, is aimed at people with advanced melanoma, lung cancer and other solid tumour cancers. Injected genetic material called messenger RNA mimics markers found on cancer cells to train the body to fight them — just as with the pandemic jabs.
While in some cases, vaccines are created specifically for each individual patient in laboratories using their own genetic information, the vaccine being trialled by British patients is among those targeted more broadly at specific types of cancer, which can be produced much more quickly and easily.
The 81-year-old, who wishes not to be named, was not responding to usual treatment so became a guinea pig for the vaccine at Hammersmith Hospital as part of the trial arm run by Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. He said: “I had a different immunotherapy, I had radiotherapy, the only thing I didn’t have was chemotherapy.
“So, the options were either do nothing and wait, or get involved and do something. I’m extremely grateful to the hospitals and the individuals that are running these trials. Somehow we have to change the fact that one in every two people get cancer at some point, and we have to make the odds better.”
Dr David Pinato and his team at Imperial College NHS Trust in London are testing to see if the vaccine is safe enough for a three-year global trial. Dr Pinato hopes it will be able to treat skin and lung cancers first, then other solid tumours such as bowel or breast cancers.
He said: “Research is in the early stages . . . but it is moving us closer to therapies that are potentially less toxic and more precise.” Moderna’s Dr Kyle Holen said: “We’re really excited about early results and hope this brings in a new age of cancer treatments.”
Between 40 and 50 patients are being recruited across the globe for the trial, known as Mobilize, including in London, Spain, the US and Australia, although it could be expanded. Once in the body, the mRNA (a genetic material) “teaches” the immune system how cancer cells differ from healthy cells and mobilises it to destroy them. While personalised vaccines can also be very effective, they can take weeks to make and rely on a large tumour sample.
There is also not enough data at present to say whether personalised vaccines are in fact better than broader cancer vaccines such as Moderna’s, Dr Pinato said. The side effects from Moderna cancer vaccines appear to be less than what would be expected with other immunotherapies, Dr Holen added.
The UK’s health secretary, Victoria Atkins, said: “This vaccine has the potential to save even more lives while revolutionising the way in which we treat this terrible disease with therapies that are more effective and less toxic on the system.”