Recently, a memorandum of understanding was struck between the German biotechnology company BioNTech and the Secretary of Health, Steve Barclay, to work on the development of customized mRNA vaccines.
The collaboration will concentrate its efforts on three primary domains: cancer immunotherapies based on mRNA or other therapeutic classes; infectious illness vaccines; and the extension of BioNTech’s position in the United Kingdom as an important market.
According to BioNTech, the establishment of a cancer vaccine launch pad as a result of this agreement has the potential to bring 10,000 individualized treatments to cancer patients undergoing treatment at the NHS by the year 2030. Both the scientific and clinical parts of the initiative will be managed by a new center that has been established in Cambridge.
The use of messenger RNA (mRNA) to encode helpful proteins already present in the body has been the subject of research for a number of years; however, the recent success of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines created by BioNTech and Moderna has rekindled interest in the technique. In addition, the partial success of checkpoint inhibitors in treating various malignancies, such as pembrolizumab, nivolumab, atezolizumab, and ipilimumab, has added to the optimism around mRNA-based cancer therapies.
The promise of mRNA cancer vaccines has also been bolstered by recent developments in technology for sequencing DNA. It is now possible, thanks to the ability to obtain DNA sequence data from clinical samples in a matter of seconds and to compare large datasets instantly, to map mutations in an individual tumor, and create custom mRNA constructs in a matter of days. Both of these capabilities were made possible by advances in technology.
This innovative strategy for treating cancer will bring about substantial changes in the way that big pharma conducts its business, which will need the development of a new service culture. Both hospital pharmacy and pathology services will need to collaborate with new entities in order to give individualized vaccinations to oncologists for injection. Pathology services will be responsible for the curation and provision of fresh tissue.
There are a lot of different factors to think about, such as the right dosage, when to administer it, whether or not to employ checkpoint inhibitors, and whether or not to combine it with regular radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
When considering the future, it is probable that the role of doctors will become significantly narrower, with the primary function being that of vaccine providers. Patients diagnosed with cancer in the year 2040 may have the option of undergoing robotic surgery that is less invasive, which would then be followed by a comprehensive staging procedure utilizing sophisticated imaging equipment. A molecular study of the excised cancer will be performed in order to determine the likelihood of cancer spreading to other parts of the body; if this likelihood is shown to be high, a combination chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment plan will be launched.
The mRNA sequences that encode the pertinent epitopes will be created by AI and retrieved from a curated repository. Robots will then identify and insert the suitable sequences into vectors that are ready for injection once the sequences have been inserted. An oncologist will be given a printout of the sequences to be injected, and then one week later, a blood sample will be collected to confirm that the patient’s immune system successfully responded to the vaccination.
It is expected that local tissue collectors and central laboratories run by large pharmaceutical companies will be the service providers in this potential future scenario.
To summarize, the partnership between BioNTech and the UK Health Secretary has the potential to completely change the way that cancer is treated; yet, there are still a lot of unanswered issues concerning the efficacy and safety of mRNA cancer vaccines. Time is the one factor that can tell us whether or not these vaccinations will live up to their potential.