Cancer Vaccine Looks Promising

From a completely unrelated story, I was alerted to a stunning report in SEMAFOR (“Hopes rise for mRNA cancer vaccine after Moderna trial shows promise“):

Hopes for a successful cancer vaccine were boosted this week after pharma company Moderna announced  that its mRNA cancer vaccine, which was developed to target melanoma, might also treat a form of head and neck cancer. Currently, mRNA vaccines are only approved for treating COVID, though researchers are racing to apply the technology to other diseases.

The development, which sent Moderna’s share price soaring, adds to scientists’ recent discoveries of more ways to use cutting-edge messenger RNA technology, expanding on the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from an early trial showed a greater overall survival rate for patients who took Moderna’s cancer vaccine alongside immunotherapy treatments, the pharma giant said.

The pandemic prompted the rapid advancement of mRNA vaccines, which give the body instructions for manufacturing bits of pathogens so that it recognizes them in future.

This is followed by snippets from the National Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Nature, and other highly credible sources. I’m combining them here for ease of reading.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm  around mRNA right now,” a doctor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said in 2022, during the COVID-spurred boom in vaccine development. mRNA vaccines beyond Moderna’s have shown promise in early trials, with researchers also reporting a positive response from patients with pancreatic cancer. An mRNA vaccine for pancreatic cancer recently  showed promise in early clinical trials, seemingly reducing the risk of the cancer returning in patients who had surgery to address it.

“From a scientific point of view, we are entering the golden age  of vaccines,” former Biden administration COVID response coordinator Ashish Jha told Axios last month, though he cautioned that we’re also entering a time of extreme vaccine hesitancy. “That contrast — that contradiction, almost — is very odd and we have a lot of work to do,” Jha said.

And mRNA innovations don’t stop at traditional medical development; machine learning researchers are using AI language models  to decode mRNA and try to make more effective vaccines.

mRNA technology may also be able to treat propionic acidaemia, a rare, life-threatening metabolic disorder where patients can’t digest certain proteins and fats because they’re unable to produce the necessary enzyme. But the promising new drug from Moderna helps the body make that enzyme, raising hopes of a new class  of drugs that could treat a wide range of conditions. A physiologist told Live Science the development was “very encouraging,” saying it provides hope  for treating other similar diseases. However, physicians warned Nature that this development was just “a first step in the right direction .”

This is getting next to no play elsewhere. Indeed, the latest reports from AP and NYT mentioning mRNA at all are from last October, when Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work. WaPo reported that as well, of course, but also had a January 2024 report about the Florida surgeon general calling for an end to mRNA vaccines because, well, Florida. Reuters is touting the jump in Moderna stock prices but not the results themselves.

So, two things.

First and most obviously, caution is warranted. Moderna obviously has a huge stake in the outcome here and the announcement is already doing wonders for its stock prices. This is still early days in the trial. But it sounds promising, indeed.

Second, and more depressingly, it occurred to me even before I was reminded of the Florida story that, because of the hysterical politicization surrounding the COVID vaccines, we could wind up in a society where Democrats and blue staters are relatively free of the scourge of cancer while Republicans and red staters continue to die needlessly.