Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said that his company’s experimental melanoma vaccine could be available in just two yearswhich would be a historic step against the most serious form of skin cancer.
The personalized vaccine developed by Merck & Co. and Moderna Inc. helped prevent the recurrence of serious skin cancer for three years thanks to promising new results from a study.
Patients with severe melanomas who received the vaccine and Merck’s cancer drug Keytruda were 49% less likely to die or cancer to return than those who received Keytruda alone, the companies said Thursday.
The findings are especially important for Moderna, the Covid shot maker whose post-pandemic strategy involves developing new uses for its messenger RNA technology to combat flu, RSV and cancer. Last month, Moderna said it expected revenue to fall sharply in 2024 to a level well below analyst expectations, raising concerns about the company’s ability to pay for its ambitious product pipeline.
Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers in the United States, but it causes the majority of annual deaths from the disease. Developing a cancer vaccine involves analyzing the genetic sequence of each patient’s tumor to create a personalized therapy that teaches the immune system to recognize markers of abnormal growth. In the mid-stage study, patients received the drugs after the tumors were surgically removed.
The results after three years are similar to those observed after two years, when the risk of death or recurrence was 44% lower among those who received the drug-vaccine combination than those who received Keytruda alone. Side effects remained generally mild, such as fatigue, pain at the injection site and chills, they said.
“We have now answered the only remaining scientific question: is this benefit short-lived or will it be long-lasting?” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview.
In July, Moderna and Merck began a late-stage trial of the combination treatment in patients with melanoma. Such a trial might be needed to confirm the results and could take three or four years, Hoge said, although regulators could help make the treatment available to patients sooner.
In an interview on Bloomberg TV, andModerna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the companies want to talk to regulators about approving the skin cancer vaccine sooner. The cancer vaccine could be launched as early as 2025, Bancel said in an interview with Cnbc.
“If you look at the next 24 months, there will be a very dense news flow, very dense product launches,” he said.
Merck and Moderna are testing the combination in other cancers where Keytruda is already used. Earlier this week, the companies said they began a late-stage trial of the combination in lung cancer patients.