Moderna and Merck cooperate on personalized cancer vaccine

Moderna and Merck announced Wednesday they will cooperate and combine their technologies to develop jointly a personalized cancer vaccine (PCV) designed for people with high-risk melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Per their joint press releases, Moderna’s vaccine based on its messenger RNA technology, mRNA-4157/V940, “is currently being evaluated in combination with KEYTRUDA, Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, as adjuvant treatment for patients with high-risk melanoma in a Phase 2 clinical trial being conducted by Moderna.”

The companies originally entered the “strategic collaboration and license agreement to develop and commercialize novel messenger RNA (mRNA)-based personalized cancer vaccines” in 2016, per Moderna’s press release at the time. Merck is now exercising its option through a $250 million payment to Moderna.

“This long-term collaboration combining Merck’s expertise in immuno-oncology with Moderna’s pioneering mRNA technology has yielded a novel tailored vaccine approach,” said Dr. Eliav Barr, senior vice president and head of global clinical development, chief medical officer, Merck Research Laboratories.

The companies expect primary data from the Phase 2 clinical trial in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Two promising technologies

As the joint press release explains, “personalized cancer vaccines are designed to prime the immune system so that a patient can generate a tailored antitumor response to their tumor mutation signature to treat their cancer.”

Merck’s monoclonal antibody KEYTRUDA has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat several different types of cancer and since last month, it’s been also approved by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) to treat various types of cancers.

Harnessing mRNA technology that uses pieces of genetic code from patients’ tumors, mRNA-4157/V940 is designed “to stimulate an immune response by generating T cell responses based on the mutational signature of a patient’s tumor.”

“We continue to be excited about the future and the impact mRNA can have as a new treatment paradigm in the management of cancer. Continuing our strategic alliance with Merck is an important milestone as we continue to grow our mRNA platform with promising clinical programs in multiple therapeutic areas,” said Stephen Hoge, M.D., President of Moderna.

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