Pancreatic cancer vaccine that uses same mRNA technology as Covid shot prevents HALF of patients’ tumors returning, promising study shows
- BioNTech has led research into a breakthrough mRNA pancreatic cancer shot
- Each vaccine is tailored to the recipient using protein cells from their cancer
- READ MORE: Harvard researchers develop AI tool that can screen for cancer
A breakthrough pancreatic cancer vaccine prevented the disease from returning in half of patients who received it.
The mRNA vaccines are developed by BioNTech, which also created the widely used Pfizer Covid shot with the same technology, are individually tailored to each recipient. Each dose costs around $100,000 to produce, the company said.
In their trials, 16 patients who had previously suffered pancreatic cancer but had their tumors surgically removed received the vaccine.
Half of the patients showed an increased level of T Cells, white blood cells responsible for fighting diseases. None of those patients had their cancer return over the 18-month period researchers followed them.
Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest forms of the disease and is very likely to return even after remission. This has placed increased attention on creating treatments and screening measures to detect and fight the disease.
BioNTech has led research into a groundbreaking vaccine for pancreatic cancer. It prevented the deadly disease from returning in 50 percent of patients that received it (file photo)
The development of the vaccine is an international project, with doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City, working alongside BioNTech, from Germany, and the Swiss pharma company Roche.
For the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers at Memorial Sloan gathered cells from the tumors of more than a dozen patients.
They sent the sample to Germany, where BioNTech labs would analyze the cancerous cells and manufacture a vaccine to fight them.
Scientists then developed an mRNA vaccine that would specifically target proteins from that person’s cancer.
After a person received the shot, their body would create a version of the protein that triggers the immune system to remove it.
By doing so, the body would now develop antibodies trained to fight against that protein.
Moderna finds success in early trials for its cancer vaccine
Patients in the trial included 61-year-old teacher Gary Keblish, from Brooklyn.
Also, the body’s defenses would be on alert to that protein. This means that if the cancer returns, the body would be quick to fight it and prevent it from proliferating.
This is also how the mRNA Covid vaccines worked, as they would create a synthetic version of the virus’s spike protein in the body to train the immune system.
Then, patients at Memorial Sloan would undergo surgery to remove cancerous growth from their body.
Nine weeks after successful surgery, they received the vaccine via an IV. Three days later, blood samples were drawn to determine whether the medication had successfully generated new cancer-fighting antibodies.
It did so in eight patients, with the other half of the study group not experiencing an immune response.
Each patient continued chemotherapy and was regularly monitored by doctors to screen if their cancer had returned.
Over the next 18 months, none of the patients whose vaccine provided an immune response had their cancer return.
Further investigation found that one of the patients even had the vaccine antibodies successfully fend off abnormal growth in a person’s liver.
‘These data are exceedingly promising, and will provide the framework for a planned further clinical trial,’ Nature wrote.
For comparison, all of the other eight had their cancer return, called a recurrence, over that time period. It took an average of 13 months for the cancer to return.
Typically, the disease will recur in around 80 percent of patients who have it surgically removed.
This vaccine has sparked hope among doctors, as finding a vaccine for cancer has long been a goal of the medical field.
Breakthroughs in mRNA technology and an increased focus on using them in medicine stem from the Covid pandemic.
BioNTech, Moderna, and other firms have all invested greatly in using mRNA for more than just the Covid shots.
Moderna has seen early success in its own trials for a cancer vaccine.
There are currently trials for mRNA shots to prevent heart failure, HIV, cancer and other conditions.
However, this vaccine is not without faults. It was only effective in half of patients during this trial — providing virtually no benefit to the others.
A high price tag comes with each shot too, with BioNTech spending a six-figure sum on each. This likely means the shot would be prohibitively expensive to consumers if it hit the market.
Beyond that, it is also only effective for people who pancreatic cancer is caught at an early enough stage that it can still be surgically removed.
Pancreatic cancer is famously among the hardest for doctors to get a handle on.
There are no single ways to screen for it and it causes mild symptoms that are often overlooked in early stages.
As a result, a majority of cases are not diagnosed until they have already spread into other organs — making it tough to treat and almost always deadly.
The National Cancer Institute estimates 64,050 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and it will be responsible for 50,550 deaths.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that 56 percent of all people diagnosed with die from the disease.
If the cancer spreads to another part of the body — called metastasis — the survival rate falls to just three percent.
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