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mRNA technology used in pancreatic cancer breakthrough

Posted on the 12th May 2023

M RNA vaccine technology pancreatic cancer

A new vaccine designed to treat pancreatic cancer prevented the disease from returning in 50 per cent of patients who received it.

Using mRNA vaccine technology, BioNTech’s personalized treatment was administered to a small group and the results have been published in the journal Nature.

Of the 16 patients who were able to complete all phases of the study, eight responded to the vaccine, which taught their immune systems how to recognize and fight off the cancer cells.

None of those eight has seen their cancer return.

In blood tests, all eight responders made T-cells against their tumors, and those have persisted for at least two years despite a follow-up course of chemotherapy.

Of the eight patients who did not respond adequately to the vaccine, only two have not seen their cancer return.

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously hard to detect and treat. It is widely known as a ‘silent disease’ because symptoms, including abdominal pain and weight loss, often don't arise until the cancer cells have spread to blood vessels and tissue, at which point treatment is difficult.

It is also one of the most lethal malignancies, with an 88 per cent fatality rate, and tumors returning within seven to nine months in 90 per cent of patients

While this study wasn’t designed to test the efficiency of the vaccine, but rather its safety and feasibility, it has sparked real hope of a breakthrough treatment.

Doctors surgically removed the patients’ tumors and sent the tissue to a lab in Germany, where scientists sequenced genetic code from the tumors and from the patients’ blood.

They compared those sets of genes to find the ones that were altered in the cancer cells. After they identified the changed genes, they ran them through a computer program to let it pick the ones that would make the most effective targets.

Then they made their personalized mRNA vaccines in just nine weeks. Patients got eight doses infused into their bloodstream rather than injected into their muscles, like the Covid-19 vaccines. This was on purpose in an attempt to stimulate a different part of the immune system.

The study is set to continue.

Related: Science behind Covid vaccines could fight cancer

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