Researchers found the combination of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine and Merck’s Keytruda in melanoma patients reduced the risk of death or relapse of the disease by 44 percent compared to patients just taking Keytruda.
The results are the first time that an mRNA vaccine, which uses the same technology as Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines, demonstrated an increased immune response in a patient when combined with a drug they are taking.
“Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a Merck release.
Keytruda is an immunotherapy used to fight a variety of cancers, including melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. MRNA teaches a person’s cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response in their body, protecting them from a virus or disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The results came in a second phase trial of the combined regimen, and researchers plan to initiate a third phase next year.
The companies plan to discuss their results with regulatory authorities and expand to other types of tumors.
The trial was conducted on 157 patients with stage 3 or stage 4 melanoma. The patients were randomized to receive either the mRNA vaccine and Keytruda or just Keytruda alone for about one year until the disease recurred or reached an “unacceptable toxicity.”
The combination of the vaccine and Keytruda was also demonstrated to be generally safe, as serious treatment-related side effects occurred in 14.4 percent of patients who had it. Serious side effects occurred in 10 percent of patients who only took Keytruda.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Paul Burton, told Reuters in an interview that the vaccine can be made in about eight weeks, but the company hopes to cut that timeframe in half eventually.