(CTN News) – New vaccines could save millions of lives, including those from cancer, experts say. According to a leading pharmaceutical firm, vaccines for cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases will be ready by 2030.
Researchers say that the Covid jab has “unspooled” 15 years’ worth of progress in 12 to 18 months, thanks to studies into these vaccines.
In five years, Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, expects to offer such treatments for “all kinds of disease areas.”
In addition to the Coronavirus vaccine, the company develops cancer vaccines for different types of tumors.
Burton said: “We’ll have that vaccine and it’ll be highly effective and it’ll save millions of lives.” Burton said: “We’ll be able to give people around the world personalised cancer vaccines.”
Also, he said, multiple respiratory infections could be covered with just one injection – protecting people against Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Rare diseases that don’t have drugs could be treated with mRNA therapies. In mRNA therapies, cells are taught how to make proteins that trigger the immune system.
Burton said, “I think we’ll be able to cure rare diseases that were previously untreatable with mRNA-based therapies, and I’m sure ten years from now, we’ll be able to find the genetic cause of a disease, edit out that cause, and fix it using mRNA.
A lack of investment will negate the accelerated progress made in the past three years, scientists warn.
Proteins are made by the mRNA molecule. Our immune system can attack proteins we inject if we inject a synthetic form. The immune system can attack and destroy cancer that’s already growing in a patient’s body with an mRNA-based cancer vaccine.
Identifying protein fragments on cancer cells that aren’t on healthy cells – and which are most likely to trigger an immune response – and creating mRNA that instructs the body to make them will do that.
It starts with taking a biopsy of a patient’s tumour, then sending it to the lab to see if it has mutations that aren’t found in healthy cells.
Next, a machine learning algorithm identifies which mutation is driving cancer growth. It also learns which parts of these abnormal proteins trigger an immune response over time. Then mRNAs for the most promising antigens get packaged into a personalised vaccine.
In recent months, Burton said, “We’ve learned that mRNA is not just for infectious diseases, or just for Covid.
“It can be applied to all kinds of diseases; we deal with cancer, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, rare diseases. We’ve done studies in all of those areas, and they’ve all been really promising.”
It was announced in January that Moderna’s experimental RSV mRNA vaccine was 83.7% effective at preventing at least two symptoms, such as cough and fever, in adults over 60. FDA granted the vaccine breakthrough therapy designation based on this data, accelerating its regulatory review.
The FDA approved Moderna’s personalised cancer vaccine in February, based on recent results in melanoma patients.
The pandemic sped up [this technology] by an order of magnitude, Burton said. This has also allowed us to scale up manufacturing, so we’re able to make huge amounts of vaccine really fast.”