Moderna Therapeutics Just Injected a Cancer Vaccine Into its First Patient

Summary: Moderna Therapeutics, in the process of developing a cancer vaccine using messenger RNA, began testing the personalized treatment on its first human subject.

Moderna Therapeutics is a clinical stage biotechnology company which discovers and develops drugs and vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA). The volume of research on messenger RNA is growing day by day, based on this the company has taken a major step forward in its determined attempt to produce a cancer vaccine. They launched a study to know the effectiveness of the treatment by administering the vaccine into its first human subject.

The company collected a 1mm3 of cancer tissue from the right lung of a 67-year old Glenda Cleaver. The tumor’s genetic code was scanned and compared to a blood sample that helped to track the changes responsible to cause cancer. With this information, a list of 20 protein targets specific to cleaver’s cancer is produced. Then the researchers assembled DNA building blocks to create a recipe for the treatment of the patient. Those DNA templates were transcribed into mRNA and then packed into a little glass vial to administer via an injection.

Cancer Vaccine along with Keytruda

Novel cancer vaccine encodes 20 neoepitopes on a single mRNA molecule to elicit a completely individualized immune response. Credit: Moderna Therapeutics

Moderna’s vaccine may help to teach the body how to recognize protein targets that appear specifically on the cancer cells. This cancer vaccine (mRNA-4157) is a mRNA based personalized cancer vaccine which delivers one medicine to one patient at a time. Moderna identifies mutations (neoepitopes) found on patient’s cancer cells. These neoepitopes can help the immune system to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells.

Moderna partnered with Merck & Co., by adding its vaccine to Merck’s Keytruda (a medicine that works with immune system and fights against certain cancers). This trail is funded with $200 million by Merck, is the 3rd biggest drugmaker in the U.S by revenue.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna said, “We don’t like doing it alone when the biology risk is high”,“With Merck, if it goes to zero we won’t lose capital. If it works we’ll take 50 percent of the upside.

Tal Zaks, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer at Moderna said, “When we combine the potential for robust T-cell response stimulated by our mRNA vaccine, which encodes for 20 patient-specific mutations, with Merck’s checkpoint inhibitor, Keytruda, we have a unique opportunity to make a transformative difference for patients with cancer.”

Roger M. Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., President, Merck Research Laboratories said, “Our goal in this important collaboration is to deliver personalized vaccines to patients suffering from malignant disease, with the hope that this stimulus will generate a tumor-specific immune response in the presence of Keytruda, our approved immune-stimulatory cancer therapy.”

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