By Sara Bondell - April 19, 2022
BioNTech, one of the companies that developed the COVID-19 vaccine, now says combining an mRNA vaccine with an existing cellular therapy could help amplify cancer treatment.
While traditional vaccines, like the flu shot, use inactivated or weakened viruses, RNA vaccines contain genetic material that instructs the body to develop defenses against future infection. They were thrust into the spotlight with the development of the first COVID-19 vaccines, but RNA vaccines actually got their start more than 20 years ago in cancer research.
The trial’s data, which were presented at this year’s American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, suggested combining CAR T-cell therapy with an mRNA vaccine called CARVac was well tolerated and showed early signs of efficacy in patients with solid tumors.
CAR T-cell therapy, where a patient’s immune cells are harvested and engineered to target and destroy cancer cells, is FDA approved to treat blood cancers but hasn’t been effective against solid tumors so far.
Of the 14 patients on the trial who were evaluated for efficacy, four patients with testicular cancer and two with ovarian cancer experienced a partial response, with an overall response rate of nearly 43%. One patient experienced complete response that continues six months after treatment.
"The next wave of discovery is to use CAR T for solid tumors, which cause over 90% of deaths from cancer."- Dr. Patrick Hwu, president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center
“The next wave of discovery is to use CAR T for solid tumors, which cause over 90% of deaths from cancer,” said Dr. Patrick Hwu, president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center. “When you give a patient T cells, you need the cells to survive and remain activated to kill the cancer. RNA vaccines can make antibodies for COVID, but they are also very good at activating T cells.”
While the trial results are promising, there is not enough data to accurately evaluate how effective the treatment is. Hwu says the combination treatment needs to be studied in more patients.
“I do believe combining an RNA vaccine with CAR T has very strong preclinical science behind it,” said Hwu. “I am hopeful that when they try it on more patients, they’ll find it works.”