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Following the speedy and successful roll-out of the Covid vaccines, ambitious plans are now underway for a new mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) cancer vaccine. The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech are spearheading the research in this area. Unlike chemotherapy, a type of cancer treatment, that attacks cancer and non-cancer cells, the mRNA technology would only target the tumour.
Professor Ozlem Tureci, the chief medical officer of BioNTech, said: “The UK is a great partner for this endeavour.
“We have seen in the Covid-19 pandemic with the fast approval of vaccines in the UK that the regulatory authority is exceptional.
“And then there is the genomic-analysis capabilities. The UK is one of the leading nations in that regard.”
Professor Tureci told the BBC: “The concept here is to use specific molecular features in individual cancers of patients to encode them into the mRNA vaccines and to train the immune system to attack.”
UK Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “BioNTech helped lead the world on a Covid-19 vaccine and they share our commitment to scientific advancement.
“This partnership will mean that, from as early as September, our patients will be among the first to participate in trials and tests to provide targeted, personalised and precision treatments using transformative new therapies to both treat the existing cancer and help stop it returning.”
Scientists are hoping to provide the personalised treatment to around 10,000 patients by 2030.
In the meantime, trials will involve patients who have already been treated for cancer – taking note if the cancer returns after being jabbed with the cancer vaccine.
And other participants in the tests will have advanced, spreading cancers, who will be given the cancer vaccine in hopes it can shrink and control the tumour.
Cancer Research spokesman Dr Ian Folks said: “mRNA vaccines are one of the most exciting research developments to come out of the pandemic.
“And there are strong hints that they could become powerful treatment options for cancer. Getting there will require lots more research.”
Current cancer treatments
Macmillan Cancer Support points out that targeted therapies already exist.
The charity explains: “Targeted therapy uses drugs to find and attack cancer cells.
“There are many different types of targeted therapy. Each type targets something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.”
Examples of targeted therapy:
An angiogenesis inhibitors block chemical signals cells use to make blood vessels grow.
Macmillan elaborates: “This makes it difficult for a tumour to develop the network of blood vessels it needs to get a blood supply.”
Without an adequate blood supply, the tumour doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow and spread.
Cancer growth inhibitors
These work by blocking chemical signals that would otherwise enable the tumour to keep developing and dividing.
By connecting to receptors on cancer cells, the tumour is unable to receive signals that would lead it to grow and divide, or develop a blood supply, for example.
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