Story at a glance

  • Researchers are looking for new ways to fight cancer.
  • One approach is to develop vaccines that target specific antigens on the surface of cancer cells.
  • The phase I results suggest the vaccine is safe, and the first person in phase II has received the vaccine.

In addition to fighting off pathogens like viruses, messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines can be developed for fighting some cancers. This works because some cancerous cells may be identifiable in a similar way to viruses so that antibodies can attach to them. One mRNA vaccine for certain types of stage 3 and stage 4 melanomas has entered phase 2 clinical trials in collaboration with Regeneron with the first person getting the vaccine dose.

The new mRNA vaccine, called BNT111, got through phase 1 clinical trials with a “favorable” safety profile, according to the developer BioNTech’s website. The researchers administer the vaccine with the drug cemiplimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment for skin cancers.

The vaccine is embedded with four tumor-related antigens, meaning proteins that are present on the surface of the cell. According to the company, 90 percent of melanomas express at least one of these four antigens. This is how the body’s immune cells can be introduced to the antigens and start producing antibodies that can attach to the antigens on the cancer cells.

This phase of the clinical trials will enroll a total of 120 people, according to the company website. The team will evaluate how the vaccine and cemiplimab work together, as well as how they work separately.


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“Our vision is to harness the power of the immune system against cancer and infectious diseases. We were able to demonstrate the potential of mRNA vaccines in addressing COVID-19. We must not forget, that cancer is also a global health threat, even worse than the current pandemic,” said physician Özlem Türeci, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech, according to the website.

The company has other mRNA vaccine candidates targeted at certain cancers in the pipeline to enter clinical trials this year. So far, it’s looking hopeful that this technology may produce vaccines for some of the most common cancers affecting people.

“BNT111 has already shown a favorable safety profile and encouraging preliminary results in early clinical evaluation,” Türeci said. “With the start of patient treatment in our Phase 2 trial, we are encouraged to continue on our initial path to realize the potential of mRNA vaccines for cancer patients.”


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Published on Jun 24, 2021