Trials of cutting-edge cancer vaccines could kick off in the U.K. as soon as September, German Covid vaccine maker BioNTech announced on Friday, part of a new government partnership to fast track development of the same mRNA technology behind the most successful coronavirus vaccines as companies race to build upon pandemic successes and target other diseases.
As many as 10,000 cancer patients in the U.K. will be treated with personalized mRNA cancer treatments by 2030, BioNTech said in a statement, whether as part of a clinical trial testing the new therapies or as approved treatment.
Such treatments are often described as cancer vaccines because they work by training the patient’s immune system to target and attack cancer cells, the same mechanism the vaccines produced by Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna use to train the body to recognize and fight the virus causing Covid-19.
British health secretary Steve Barclay said the agreement meant “the best possible treatments are available as soon as possible” and that trials for the cancer vaccines could begin as soon as September.
The project is part of a broader partnership with the U.K. government focused on cancer immunotherapies, infectious disease vaccines and expanding the German biotech’s “footprint in the U.K.”
BioNTech said it will also set up a regional headquarters in London and a scientific research hub in Cambridge.
BioNTech co-founder and chief executive Ugur Sahin praised the U.K.’s rapid development of mRNA vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic that showed “drug development can be accelerated without cutting corners,” something the firm now hoped to replicate for cancer patients.
Scientists have worked on mRNA vaccines, including those targeting cancer, for decades. Unlike traditional vaccines, which inject part or all of a virus (or other pathogen) into the body to provoke an immune response, mRNA shots work by injecting genetic instructions and allowing the body to make part of the virus itself. The process is more flexible, simpler and much faster than traditional methods and can be swiftly edited to adapt to real-world changes to the virus. The field enjoyed little success and sporadic interest among scientists until the Covid-19 pandemic, when a number of highly successful vaccines were rapidly built and successfully deployed using the technology, notably from Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech. The stellar takeoff of these vaccines during the pandemic revitalized interest in the field and pharma giants have been ramping up efforts to deploy it against other threats like flu, HIV, malaria, shingles and cancer ever since.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The pandemic has paved the way for a whole new class of vaccine and lots of firms have mRNA shots in various stages of development. It could be a number of years until these are trialed and approved—the emergency nature of the Covid-19 pandemic fast tracked the process, which ordinarily takes years—though updated Covid vaccines have already been deployed. BioNTech’s founders have said mRNA cancer vaccines could be ready to use in patients as soon as 2030. Early trialresults of a cancer vaccine from Moderna, which targets an aggressive type of skin cancer, have been promising.
$23 billion. That’s how much the mRNA product market could be worth by 2035, Boston Consulting Group estimates. The majority of this will come from preventative vaccines, the researchers said. Huge demand for Covid-19 vaccines, a market initially dominated by mRNA early-movers like Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, puts a much higher value on the market now. The researchers estimated it was worth $50 billion in 2021, all of this coming from Covid-19 vaccines.
BioNTech’s Humble Billionaire CEO On The Next Era Of mRNA Vaccines (Forbes)
The mRNA vaccine revolution is just beginning (Wired)
The UK’s dream of becoming a ‘science superpower’ (Financial Times)
What’s next for mRNA vaccines (MIT Technology Review)
By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff