New Research In Skin Cancer Vaccine Shows Dramatic Reduction Of Melanoma Relapse In Patients


A groundbreaking development in the fight against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has emerged with the introduction of a personalized skin cancer vaccine.

This innovative vaccine has demonstrated incredible results, nearly halving the risk of death or relapse among patients. The clinical trial focused on individuals who had already gone through surgery to remove melanoma from lymph nodes, or other organs and were deemed at a higher risk of cancer recurrence.

Moreover, the incredible results of this innovative vaccine should not be understated, as melanoma affects approximately 1.3 million Americans. Experts believe that it will become the second most prevalent type of cancer in the United States by 2024.

Back in February, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the mRNA-4157/V940 vaccine a designation of “Breakthrough Therapy” in order to accelerate the medicine’s development in combination with pembrolizumab, which is an immunotherapy drug. This innovative vaccine works by stimulating the body’s immune system T cells to target and attack tumors.

To make sure that normal cells are not harmed during treatment, the immune system employs “checkpoint” molecules on T cell surfaces to deactivate their attack once a viral infection has been cleared. However, one main challenge when it comes to melanoma and other types of cancer cells is that they exploit these so-called checkpoints, invading the immune responses. Immunotherapies, such as pembrolizumab, aim to inhibit these checkpoints as to render the cancer cells more vulnerable and “visible” to immune cells.

According to senior investigator and professor at New York University, Jeffrey Weber, said,

“Our phase 2b study shows that a neoantigen mRNA vaccine, when used in combination with pembrolizumab, resulted in prolonged time without recurrence or death compared with pembrolizumab alone.”

The trial involved 107 participants that were given both personalized vaccine and pembrolizumab immunotherapy. Incredibly, within two years, just 24 patients (22.4%) experienced cancer recurrence as compared to 20 out of 50 patients (40%) who received just pembrolizumab. The results give compelling evidence of the vaccine’s efficacy in reducing the risk of cancer relapse. But, the researchers also share that there will need to be larger-scale studies done to validate these findings.

During their presentation of the study results during a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Orlando, the researchers also showed that Phase 3 trials of this vaccine-immunotherapy combination were already in the planning stages in both New York and globally.

Similar to the experimental COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA-4157/V940 is based on messenger RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA that gives instructions to cells to make proteins. The vaccine is designed to train the body’s immune system to recognize cancer cells as distinct from normal cells. In the case of melanoma, scientists aimed to induce an immune response against specific abnormal proteins, known as ‘neoantigens,’ produced by cancer cells.

The researchers examined the cells of each study participant to identify neoantigens unique to their melanomas, enabling them to create a personalized vaccine for each patient. The development process for each vaccine took approximately six to eight weeks, and the vaccines were capable of recognizing up to 34 distinct neoantigens.

While there were adverse side effects reported by the study participants in both treatments, fatigue was the most commonly reported symptom specific to the vaccine.

At the moment, this vaccine is undeniably promising, however, more research and studies are needed to solidify its effectiveness and safety. Nevertheless, this breakthrough is yet again another significant stride forward in the fight against melanoma, offering hope to millions of people globally that are affected by this devasting and deadly disease.