Towards the end of 2022 we noted the positive results of a Moderna/Merck trial for a personalised cancer vaccine in combination with KEYTRUDA therapy. After the mRNA momentum of the pandemic, there appears to be a sense of optimism in the therapeutic community for the power of this technology to make a difference to a range of treatments. So, what progress can we expect to see this year, and who will be driving it? 

Breakthrough results 

The announcement of the recent successful collaboration between Moderna and Merck resulted in significant financial interest, as noted by the Financial Times: “the 27 per cent – or $16.8bn – jump in Moderna’s market value over two days following the announcement reflected investors’ wider hopes for cancer vaccines”. As the commentary suggests, the influx of investment and understanding during the pandemic has left companies like Moderna and BioNTech in a strong position to make waves on the therapeutic scene. As we go forward into further trials, hopes are high.  

The founders of BioNTech have encouraged this hope through suggestions that recent breakthroughs were driving their progress towards therapies. They are targeting a range of cancers with mRNA technology.  

Friend or foe? 

After its success in the COVID-19 vaccines, it would be natural to expect that mRNA would be a firm favourite for the future of vaccines. However, fears about the effect that it has on the body have taken hold and bee exploited by anti-vaccine populations. The unfounded claim that it might be able to “alter” a person’s DNA is particularly worrying. Dr Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Centre, explained in 2021 that there are 3 key reasons why this is “not possible”. 

“the fact that the mRNA can’t enter the nucleus; the fact that the mRNA isn’t DNA and would need to be translated or reverse transcribed back to DNA; and because it can’t be integrated into DNA, it is not possible for messenger RNA to alter DNA”.  

Despite this assurance, fears continue to spread, particularly on social media, and this has the potential to undermine research efforts into therapeutic possibilities. Hopefully, with renewed investment and continued education, this will change. If mRNA truly is the “blueprint” that Professor Ozlem Tureci suggests it is, 2023 promises to be an exciting year for therapies.  

For much more on cancer therapies at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington 2023, get your tickets now.