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Tue Jun 11, 2024, 07:18 AM Jun 11

How personalized cancer vaccines could keep tumours from coming back


11 June 2024

How personalized cancer vaccines could keep tumours from coming back

The same mRNA technology that quickly brought the world a vaccine for COVID-19 is now showing promise as a bespoke therapy for cancer.

By Elie Dolgin

Angela Evatt lay face down under anaesthesia as surgeons removed a malignant mole from her back and a lymph node from her left armpit. The purpose of the operation was not only to excise the cancerous tissue from her body, but also to begin the process of crafting a personalized vaccine that would train Evatt’s immune system to attack any tumour cells left behind.

The vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA), carefully constructed to encode the unique mutant proteins, known as neoantigens, that are found on the surface of Evatt’s melanoma skin cancer cells. She first received this bespoke vaccine, alongside a potent immune-stimulating drug known as a checkpoint inhibitor, as part of a clinical trial in March 2020, just months before mRNA vaccines would become household names in the fight against COVID-19.

Every three weeks, Evatt travelled from her home in Maryland to Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington DC to get an injection in each arm. The mRNAs enter her healthy cells and then produce the neoantigens that educate her immune system.

Despite Evatt experiencing severe flu-like symptoms for a day or two after each injection — fever, achiness, chills — the treatment seems to have been beneficial. Now in her mid-40s, she has remained in remission for more than three years after completing her treatments.


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