June 21, 2024

The world’s first personalized mRNA cancer vaccine for melanoma halves the risk of patients dying or the disease returning, according to trial results that doctors have described as “extremely impressive”.

Melanoma affects more than 150,000 people a year worldwide, according to 2020 figures from World Cancer Research Fund International.

Patients who received the vaccine after removing stage three or four melanoma had a 49% lower risk of dying or having the disease recur after three years, data presented at the world’s largest cancer conference showed . The NHS is one such organisation test the stitch.

Patients in the phase 2b trial had high-risk melanomas and either had the jab, developed by Moderna and Merck, along with the immunotherapy Keytruda or were given Keytruda alone.

The 2.5-year recurrence-free survival rate for the jab in combination with Keytruda was 74.8%, compared with 55.6% for Keytruda alone, delegates at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago heard.

“We are encouraged by the latest results,” said Kyle Holen, Moderna’s head of development, therapeutics and oncology. “These findings reinforce our commitment to advancing this innovative treatment.”

Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said the results were another milestone in “the exciting, evolving landscape of cancer vaccine research”.

“After three years of follow-up, the data suggest that the rates of cancer relapse have not increased in people with high-risk, advanced-stage melanoma,” he said. “The findings highlight the great promise of therapeutic cancer vaccines used in combination with powerful immunotherapies.”

Known as mRNA-4157 (V940), the shot is custom built for each patient and tells their body to kill any remaining cancer cells and prevent the disease from ever coming back.

A tumor sample is removed during the patient’s surgery, followed by DNA sequencing and the use of artificial intelligence. The result is a customized anti-cancer jab specific to the patient’s tumor.

A second trial presented at ASCO, led by the University of Vienna, found that cancer muscles can significantly improve survival for breast cancer patients after surgery.

The study involved 400 patients with early stage breast cancer. Half were given a vaccine to stimulate their immune system before surgery.

After seven years, 81% of patients who had the vaccine were still alive and free of breast cancer, compared with 65% of those who received standard care.

Lead author Dr Christian Singer said: “This is the first significant and profound long-term survival benefit of an anti-cancer vaccine in breast cancer patients reported to date.”

Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said the results of the melanoma trial were “extremely impressive”.

“It’s freaking exciting,” Swanton said. “The new vaccine approach is another piece of the puzzle that will hopefully allow more patients to be cured, or fewer patients to suffer disease relapse. Ultimately, this will contribute to continuously improving survival rates over the next decades and more. “

Thousands of patients in England are quickly led to groundbreaking trials of personalized cancer vaccines in a revolutionary world-first NHS “matchmaking” scheme to save lives.

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