Two pharmaceutical companies said Tuesday that they have made notable progress with a vaccine that could prevent melanoma.
Moderna, well known for its work on the COVID vaccine, and Merck, which makes the cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda, announced that the combination performed well in a small study of patients who had the cancer surgically removed.
"Today's results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a company news release.
"We will begin additional studies in melanoma and other forms of cancer with the goal of bringing truly individualized cancer treatments to patients," Bancel said. "We look forward to publishing the full data set and sharing the results at an upcoming oncology medical conference, as well as with health authorities."
Study participants experienced a statistically significant improvement in survival with a combination of the vaccine and Keytruda before the cancer returned in patients who had advanced melanoma.
"These positive findings represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Moderna," said Dr. Dean Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories.
"Over the last six years, our teams have worked closely together combining our respective expertise in mRNA and immuno-oncology with a focus on improving outcomes for patients with cancer," Li said in the release. "We look forward to advancing this program into the next phase of development."
The skin cancer vaccine uses mRNA technology to train a patient's immune system to see and respond to DNA mutations in patient tumors. Meanwhile, Keytruda is approved to treat several types of cancer. It works by priming the body's immune system to find and fight tumor cells, the Associated Press reported.
Researchers compared the combination of the vaccine and Keytruda with Keytruda alone in a mid-stage clinical trial that included 157 patients. Those who had the combination had a 44% reduction in the risk of death or the cancer returning when compared to Keytruda alone, the AP reported.
Researchers administered the treatments for about a year in both groups, with exceptions made for severe side effects or disease return.
A phase 3 study will begin next year, which is generally the last stage companies apply for regulatory review, the AP reported.
The companies also plan to research the vaccine with other types of tumors.
The American Cancer Society has more on melanoma.
SOURCES: Moderna, news release, Dec. 13, 2022; Associated Press