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Researchers explore new frontier in cancer treatment
Messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology used to create the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines has been in development since the 1960s.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.
Gaps with current cancer therapies
The main ways to treat cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell or bone marrow transplant, surgery, and immunotherapy. These treatment types can be used alone or together.
Each cancer treatment has advantages and disadvantages.
What are cancer vaccines and how do they work?
Therapeutic cancer vaccines treat existing cancer and stop it from growing or spreading. Because each person’s cancer is unique, many cancer vaccines are personalized to spot specific mutations in the patient’s cancer genome and teach the immune system how to recognize and destroy those specific mutated cancer cells.
So far, no mRNA cancer vaccines have been approved for use either alone or with other cancer treatments.
A growing pipeline of mRNA cancer vaccines
Important research and clinical trials are underway to explore mRNA vaccines for different cancers such as melanoma, liver, prostate, ovarian, pancreatic, colorectal, and other advanced solid tumors. At least 13 clinical trials registered on ClinicalTrials.gov involve mRNA cancer vaccines.
Challenges ahead for mRNA cancer vaccines
Preliminary research shows these customized therapies offer benefits in terms of survival and quality of life. But there are important steps to take to make mRNA cancer vaccines more accessible to more patients. These include:
- Decreasing production times and improving ease of administration
- Addressing relative instability and the potential for easy degradation
- Finding the right neoantigen candidates with DNA sequencing
- Addressing the cost of personalized therapies, which can’t be produced in bulk
- Figuring out the optimal combination of mRNA vaccines and available cancer therapies
Even with these challenges, the industry remains optimistic about mRNA vaccine technology and its role in fighting cancer.
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