A new vaccine is being heralded as a ‘game changer’ for some types of cancer. The vaccine works by telling the body to hunt down cancer cells and prevent the cancer from coming back.

The vaccine has been developed using similar technology to the COVID-19 vaccines, messenger RNA or mRNA. The vaccine is called mRNA-4157 (V940). It has been developed to target proteins on the tumour cells, called neoantigens. Neoantigens are markers on the tumour cells, which can potentially be recognised by the immune system. This triggers the immune system to fight back against the patient’s specific type of cancer.

The vaccine is made using a sample of the patient’s own tumour. This is removed during the patient’s surgery. The sequence of the four chemical building blocks of DNA (DNA sequencing) from the tumour cells is determined using artificial intelligence. This creates a personalised anti-cancer vaccine that is specific to the patient’s cancer.

The researchers said: “This is very much an individualised therapy and it’s far cleverer in some senses than a vaccine. It is absolutely custom-built for the patient – you couldn’t give this to the next patient in the line because you wouldn’t expect it to work. They may have some shared new antigens [proteins], but they’re likely to have their own very individual new antigens that are important to their tumour and so, therefore, it is truly personalised.”

The ultimate aim of the vaccine is to cure patients of their cancer, said the researchers.

The personalised mRNA vaccine has been tested for patients with melanoma in the UK. The vaccine also has the potential to be used for the treatment of kidney, lung and bladder cancer.

A phase 2 clinical trial found that the vaccine dramatically reduced the risk of the cancer returning in melanoma patients. Phase 2 trial data, published in December, found that people with serious high-risk melanomas who received the vaccine together with pembrolizumab were half as likely to die or have their cancer come back after three years than those who were only given pembrolizumab.

Side effects to the vaccine include tiredness and a sore arm where the jab was given. The researchers said that “it appears to be relatively tolerable and actually no worse than having a flu vaccine or a Covid jab for the majority of patients.”

Now a phase 3 trial has been launched and is being led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH). This global trial will include a wider range of melanoma patients, and hopes to recruit around 1,100 people. The UK aims to recruit at least 60 to 70 melanoma patients across eight centres, including in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford and Bristol.

The personalised mRNA vaccine plus pembrolizumab combination is also being tested in lung, bladder and kidney cancer.

Professor Lawrence Young, from the University of Warwick, said: “This is one of the most exciting developments in modern cancer therapy.”

Read more in the Independent here

Watch the Friends of Renal Oncology Group (FROG) interview with Professor Lennard Lee, Oxford University, about cancer vaccines here: