As we find ourselves in September and ever closer to the Congress in Barcelona next month, our interview series is kicking off with vigour. In this piece we were delighted to hear from Moderna’s Dr Kyle Holen, who will be participating in a cancer vaccine keynote and a session on “the impact of a cancer vaccine on patients with melanoma”. This conversation was conducted over email, and we are very grateful for Dr Holen’s time and insights! We hope you enjoy reading it.  

Introducing Dr Holen 

Dr Holen is head of development for Moderna’s therapeutics group. This includes oncology, rare disease, CV, pulmonary, and immunology. He will be involved in two sessions at the Congress. The first, on Wednesday 18th October, is the cancer vaccine keynote, which will bring together experts to discuss goals and timelines. The second will be on Thursday 19th October, and will explore mRNA-4157.  

Individualised neoantigen therapy 

If you’ve been part of our community for a while, you’ll know that we are very interested in Moderna’s individualised neoantigen therapy (INT), so we asked Dr Holen to give us the inside scoop. For starters, with so many challenges to overcome, how is Moderna demonstrating success? Dr Holen suggests that the team is “super excited” by their progress, and “frankly, a bit surprised” by the results! The randomised study showed a 44% reduction in melanoma recurrence and an even greater (65%) reduction in distant metastases.  

“These results amount to a huge benefit for patients, as recurrence requires further invasive therapy and is highly correlated with survival from the disease.”  

So, what sets Moderna apart from the rest? Dr Holen believes the “key to this advancement” is the “individualised nature of the vaccine”. The team identifies a “bespoke panel of targets” based on the tumour mutations.  

“One common antigen or even a few common antigens will not be effective for the majority of people with cancer – so to tailor the vaccine to 34 unique antigens, all of which are predicted to mount an immune response, I think is the best way to elevate the potential of cancer vaccination.” 
What’s next then? 

With positive results rolling in, what can we expect to see from Moderna going forward? Dr Holen states that the goal is simple: 

“To have the greatest possible impact to those affected by cancer as possible.”  

He and his colleagues are “actively pursuing options for “other indications, combinations, earlier and later lines of therapy, and more”. Enrolment for the Phase III melanoma study has already been initiated, and they hope to open the Phase III non-small cell lung cancer study later this year.  

“More to come, for sure!” 
Participating in the conversation 

Dr Holen will represent Moderna on an exciting panel with colleagues from the cancer field. We asked what he hopes Moderna is bringing to the table, and why it’s important that these conversations are happening. He commented that “progress across the entire field” is exciting.  

“The progress that other companies are making is helping to elevate the perception of cancer vaccines, which is critically important because such a high degree of scepticism exists. The scepticism is there for good reason; many previous attempts at vaccines have failed.” 

However, with “great data” and demonstrable progress from Moderna and others, “we are taken more seriously”. 

“I firmly believe that the rising tide elevates all boats, and I look forward to seeing what we can all accomplish together to help those with cancer.”  
Counting down to the Congress 

Our final question, as always, invites our speakers to share their hopes for the event. For Dr Holen, the opportunity to “share our enthusiasm of mRNA-4157″ and learn from others is exciting. Furthermore, “potential new collaborations” and connections can be made. 

“Should be a GREAT meeting and I am looking forward to it!” 

We are grateful to Dr Holen and his team for delivering these insights to our community. We hope you enjoyed reading his comments and look forward to hearing more at the event. Have you bought your tickets yet? If you can’t join us, do subscribe to stay in the loop with VaccineNation.