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Human trial for world’s first skin cancer vaccine begins

A trial for the world’s first personalised mRNA cancer immunotherapy for melanoma, a type of skin cancer, has begun at University College London Hospital (UCLH), UK.

The work is underpinned by support from NIHR infrastructure.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Immunotherapy is specifically tailored to the genetic signature of each patient’s tumour.

The patient’s immune system recognises and attacks cancerous cells. The aim is to prevent the recurrence of cancer after removal of the tumour.

The treatment is mRNA-based technology developed by Moderna and Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD).

To personalise the treatment, a sample of the patient’s tumour is removed during surgery.

Then DNA sequencing and artificial intelligence are used to custom-build a therapy that is specific to each tumour.

The Phase 2 study, published in The Lancet, found there was a 49% reduction in the risk of recurrence or death after three years compared with the standard treatment. The new, expanded Phase 3 trial has just been launched.

The new Phase 3 clinical trial is evaluating the combination of mRNA-4157 (V940) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) versus a current standard of care (pembrolizumab) as a risk-reducing treatment option for patients with resected, high-risk, stage IIB to IV melanoma.

One of the first patients to sign up for the new Phase 3 clinical trial is musician Steve Young, 52, of Hertfordshire. He was diagnosed with stage II melanoma which was removed.

He is now a participant in the immunotherapy trial as he feels this is his best chance of trying to stop the cancer returning, according to the official release by the University College London Hospitals.

As per the statement, the personalised treatment works by instructing the body to make up to 34 proteins, each targeting ‘neoantigens’ identified by gene sequencing and thought to be driving the cancer in that particular patient.

The neoantigens are proteins found only on the cancer cells, and the individualised neoantigen therapy is designed to prime the immune system to attack the tumour cells in each patient, while Keytruda blocks an immunological ‘brake’ that protects the cancer.

Dr Heather Shaw, Consultant Medical Oncologist and national coordinating investigator of the trial, said: “The idea behind this immunotherapy is that, by prompting the body to make these proteins, it can prepare the immune system to quickly identify and attack any cancer cells bearing them, with the aim of preventing recurrence of melanoma.”

Researchers are now hoping that the Phase 3 study, which is running in several sites across the UK, will confirm the findings of the earlier trial. The Phase 3 trial, named INTerpath-001, will enrol around 1,089 patients across the world. India Today

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