UK trial for mRNA cancer vaccine as EC pushes for prevention

5 February 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘This trial is laying crucial groundwork that is moving us closer to new therapies that are potentially less toxic and more precise […]’

Sunday 4 February marked World Cancer Day, and UK researchers at Imperial College NHS Trust marked it with the announcement that they had commenced phase 1/2 clinical trials of a new type of immunotherapy treatment called mRNA-4359.

The Mobilize trial aims to evaluate the treatment’s safety and potential for treating melanoma, lung cancer and other solid tumour cancers. mRNA-4359 is described as a therapeutic cancer vaccine which is ‘ready-made’ and tailored to a particular type of cancer.

The first patients in the UK have received the new treatment, which works by presenting common markers of tumours to the patient's immune system. It is designed to prime the immune system to fight cancer cells expressing these markers and potentially eliminate cells that suppress the immune system.

There are a range of existing treatments, however cancer cells can become resistant to drugs, making tumours more difficult to treat. The trial is being sponsored by Moderna, and is set to recruit patients from around the world over the next three years.

As well as assessing its safety and how well the new treatment is tolerated, the trial will also investigate whether the combination of treatments can actively shrink tumours in patients with certain types of lung and skin cancer.

‘This research is still in its early stages and may be a number of years from being available to patients, but this trial is laying crucial groundwork that is moving us closer to new therapies that are potentially less toxic and more precise, we desperately need these to turn the tide against cancer,’ said Dr David Pinato, who is leading the trial at Imperial College.

In a separate development, the European Commission said that it was ‘putting forward a Recommendation to support Member States in their efforts to prevent cancer through vaccination.’

It is part of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, a key pillar of the European Health Union. It is estimated that about 40% of cancer cases in the EU are preventable. However, a recently published report: Beating Cancer Inequalities in the EU: Spotlight on cancer prevention and early detection, indicates that just 5% of total health spending was dedicated to prevention in EU Member States in 2021.

Measures set out in the Recommendation include providing vaccination free of charge and strengthening communication efforts, particularly by highlighting the benefits of vaccination to parents, young people and target groups.

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