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Skin cancer vaccine could soon become reality

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — There could soon be a new vaccine to help keep skin cancer from returning in patients, according to newly released findings by Moderna and Merck.

Moderna and Merck announced the first presentation of detailed results of the mRNA-4157/V940 vaccine on Sunday. The vaccine is “an investigational individualized neoantigen therapy, in combination with Keytruda, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy” that is supposed to help reduce the chance of reoccurring cancer in patients with resected high-risk melanoma (stage III/IV), according to the press release.

In the press release, the companies claimed the experimental vaccine had successfully shown “significant and clinically meaningful improvement in recurrence-free survival” as well as helped reduce the “risk of recurrence or death by 44%.”

In phase two of the study, researchers studied 157 patients with stage four and five melanoma. Once the cancer was completely removed, patients started the vaccine coupled with Keytruda — a drug used to boost the immune system. Results found 79% of participants were cancer-free for 18 months.

Phase three of the study is expected to begin this year.

NewsNation medical analyst Dr. Dave Montgomery said these results have gotten many people very excited, and for good reason.

“Two almost household names, Moderna and Merck, have gotten together to develop what they call a PCV (personalized cancer vaccine), and this is how it works,” Montgomery started. “They take a bit of the tumor, the melanoma in this particular case, and then they map the proteins. They take those proteins to develop this mRNA vaccine, which allows the body to attack the cancer. Now, when they put that together with Keytruda, which is already in use for a number of cancers — including skin cancer — the results are astonishing. It’s got a lot of people very excited.”

Montgomery explained that mRNA technology has been in research for over 20 years — it’s not brand new. He said what these researchers are doing is building on what they’ve already learned over this time, which is they can train the immune system with mRNA.

In this instance, researchers have worked to train the small particles of mRNA to attack melanoma cancer cells and rev up the immune system’s ability to do that, Montgomery explained.

“We saw with the COVID vaccines that we can actually merge some of the phases together and shorten breakthroughs like this. The U.S. regulators are also excited about this, which is hard to do,” he said.

The FDA has granted a Breakthrough Therapy Designation, which is going to help expedite the trial vaccine, even though many researchers think it will still take three years for the vaccine to be completed.

“I think we’ll start seeing this in the next year or two,” Montgomery said.

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