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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Expedited by Covid, Cancer Vaccines Are Coming

A silver lining of the rush to create a COVID-19 vaccine is that vaccine technology will soon encompass a range of conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

The potential to save millions of lives depends on the final development of vaccines for cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions that are expected to be ready by 2030. The use of mRNA-based therapies accelerated for use against COVID-19 is spreading to other areas.

Moderna Working on Multiple Vaccines

Pharmaceutical company Moderna, a leader in mRNA technology, will be instrumental in bringing these new treatments to market, says Dr. Paul Burton, the company’s chief medical officer. The company is currently working on cancer vaccines that target specific tumor types. 

“We will have that vaccine and it will be highly effective, and it will save many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives,” says Burton. “I think we will be able to offer personalized cancer vaccines against multiple different tumor types to people around the world.”

Already, the company has gotten permission to expedite development of a personalized cancer vaccine to treat melanoma based on recent results in clinical trials.

Respiratory Virus Vaccine Would Protect Seniors

Burton envisions a single injection to protect against common respiratory infections such as COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This could be of particular importance to vulnerable populations like senior adults. Moderna’s late-stage trial of an experimental mRNA vaccine for RSV, completed in January, showed it was 83.7% effective at preventing at least two symptoms, such as cough and fever, in adults 60 and over. Consequently, it received breakthrough therapy designation and is being fast-tracked by the FDA.

Another area that is seeing immense progress is mRNA-based therapies for rare diseases. “I think that 10 years from now, we will be approaching a world where you truly can identify the genetic cause of a disease and, with relative simplicity, go and edit that out and repair it using mRNA-based technology,” says Burton.

Pfizer is Developing Vaccines

Drug company Pfizer is also researching mRNA vaccines and is developing an influenza vaccine in late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer is collaborating with BioNTech on a shingles vaccine.

“The learnings from the Covid-19 vaccine development process have informed our overall approach to mRNA research and development, and how Pfizer conducts R&D (research and development) more broadly,” says a Pfizer spokesperson. “We gained a decade’s worth of scientific knowledge in just one year.”

An unexpected benefit of the pandemic is the expedited development of novel ways to protect against viruses. These vaccines can serve to protect us not only from future pandemics but from a wide variety of other diseases, including some with no current means of prevention.