mRNA cancer therapy now in human trials after shrinking mouse tumours

The new treatment in now in now being trialed in humans  (AFP via Getty Images)
The new treatment in now in now being trialed in humans (AFP via Getty Images)

A cancer treatment that uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to attack cancer cells is being tested on humans after a new study found the therapy was able to completely shrink tumours in mice.

BioNTech, the German company that developed Pfizer’s breakthrough mRNA vaccine, is beginning testing of the treatment to examine whether it can be effective in fighting cancerous cells in humans by producing tumour-fighting proteins.

mRNA are molecules that instruct cells in the body to make proteins. In the study, which was published in the medical journal, Science Translational Medicine, researchers developed a mixture of mRNA that would make cytokines - a protein naturally produced by immune cells to fight cancer cells.

Similar to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, the new therapy teaches the body to produce the desired protein. In this case, anti-tumour proteins that help the body fight cancerous cells.

The results of the study showed that when the mRNA mixture was injected into the mice with two different types of cancer (skin and lung cancer), an immune response was triggered producing cytokines to an amount able to diminish the tumours in 17 out of 20 mice in fewer than 40 days.

In addition, some of the animals showed that the therapy travel off site from the targeted skin cancer, to lung cancer cells where advanced antitumour responses were registered, further improving survival and tumour reduction.

The scientists also explained in their study that whilst the therapy could be a viable approach, it can also trigger unwanted side effects.

As a result of the successful study, clinical testing of the treatment is underway. A phase one/two trial has been ongoing since 2019 involving 231 participants. Preliminary results released in November 2020 found no adverse side effects to the trial treatment, currently known as SAR441000.

The BioNTech-developed Pfizer vaccine has been at the forefront of global immunisation against coronavirus with over 90 per cent efficacy against Covid-19 after the second dose of its vaccine.