Skin cancer vaccine could turn the tide on melanoma

A new mRNA vaccine has been found to greatly reduce the rate of death after a melanoma is cut out.

A new mRNA vaccine has been found to greatly reduce the rate of death after a melanoma is cut out. Photo: Getty

Most people only became familiar with mRNA vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic, but new research has found that a mRNA skin cancer vaccine can significantly reduce death in people who have suffered from melanoma.

The research, being presented at the 2024 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting by Australian of the Year Professor Georgina Long, found that the developed vaccine, when given in combination with an immunotherapy drug, resulted in an increased survival rate for people who had suffered from melanoma.

Dr Kyle Holden, Moderna’s senior vice president and head of development, said the findings highlighted the benefit of the combined treatment for people with high-risk melanomas that had been removed.

“These findings reinforce our commitment to advancing this innovative treatment,” he said in a statement.

“We are dedicated to harnessing mRNA technology to potentially transform cancer therapy and improve patient outcomes.”

Moderna and Merck, the two pharmaceutical companies who funded the vaccine, will launch phase-three studies for people “with high-risk melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer”.

Melanoma is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer, with more than 15,000 Australians diagnosed each year, and is considered one of the worst because it spreads through the body.

mRNA vaccines

Messenger RNA may have been new to many people in recent years, researchers have been studying and working with the vaccines for the flu, zika virus and rabies for decades.

They work by creating a protein, or part of the virus, when injected, resulting in the body’s immune system learning how to create a response to it, compared to traditional vaccines that contain an inactive microbe of the virus which then creates the immune response.

In the simplest terms, mRNA serves as an instruction manual for the body, while traditional vaccines stimulate the immune response with a dead version of the virus.

The research found that the two-and-a-half-year survival rate of the mRNA vaccine was 74.8 per cent, compared to 55.6 per cent for just the immunotherapy drug, representing a substantial increase.

Australia’s cancer

Australia has one of the highest melanoma rates in the world, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Long, who is the co-director of the Melanoma Institute Australia, is presenting the findings.

Two-thirds of Australians will experience melanoma in their lifetime and roughly 2000 die each year from skin cancer.


Two-thirds of Australians will experience a form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Photo: Getty

It is expected that 16,800 Australians, or one every 30 minutes, will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2024.

Australia’s current national cancer plan aims to maximise cancer prevention and early detection, while informing people on the risks of not wearing sunscreen.

The vaccine research follows another promising treatment being discovered by Australian researchers earlier in this year.

Topics: vaccine
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