The UK government and pharmaceutical company BioNTech have announced a partnership that will forefront mRNA cancer vaccine research in the UK. The BBC reports that the messenger-ribonucleic-acid technology (mRNA) that was successfully used to develop Covid vaccines will be applied to cancer immunotherapies.
mRNA treatments can be personalised to target only the specified cancer cells in the patient’s body, unlike chemotherapy which can damage healthy cells. There are already several mRNA cancer vaccine trials progressing at locations world wide, but BioNTech plan to establish a major research and development base in the UK.
BioNTech co-founder Prof Ozlem Tureci told BBC News: “The UK is a great partner for this endeavour. We have seen in the Covid-19 pandemic with the fast approval of vaccines in the UK that the regulatory authority is exceptional. And then there is the genomic-analysis capabilities. The UK is one of the leading nations in that regard.”
He added: “The concept here is to use specific molecular features in individual cancers of patients to encode them into the mRNA vaccines and to train the immune system to attack.”
It is hoped that up to 10,000 cancer patients will be participating in mRNA vaccine trials in the UK by 2030, Sky News reports. The BioNTech deal is seen as a huge boost to the government and UK health service, although some commentators have expressed doubt about the cost. The NHS is already under huge pressure as it grapples with post-Covid backlogs.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said: “Once cancer is detected, we need to ensure the best possible treatments are available as soon as possible, including for breast, lung and pancreatic cancer. BioNTech helped lead the world on a Covid-19 vaccine and they share our commitment to scientific advancement.”
He added: “This partnership will mean that, from as early as September, our patients will be among the first to participate in trials and tests to provide targeted, personalised and precision treatments using transformative new therapies to both treat the existing cancer and help stop it returning.”
A new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad will be established to provide access to the cancer trials, with data provided by NHS England and Genomics England. This will ensure that a wide demographic with a range of different cancer stages and types will be identified and offered a place on an appropriate trial.
Cancer Research UK spokesman Dr Iain Foulkes commented: “mRNA vaccines are one of the most exciting research developments to come out of the pandemic, and there are strong hints that they could become powerful treatment options for cancer. Getting there will require lots more research.”
While there are still questions around the affordability of developing and implementing a major new approach to cancer treatment in the UK, the BioNTech partnership is viewed as a success for the UK government. It is thought that the mRNA vaccine technology research will also address other serious infectious diseases.
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