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Merck & Co Inc. (NYSE: MRK) mRNA Vaccine Could Boost Survival In Melanoma – Study

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Shares of Merck & Co Inc (NYSE: MRK) inches down in premarket on Monday as the U.S. researchers announced at a medical convention on Sunday that an experimental mRNA cancer vaccine created by Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA) and Merck & Co. reduced the chance of death or recurrence of the most lethal skin cancer by 44% compared to Merck’s immunotherapy Keytruda alone.

Dr. Jeffrey Weber of the NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center, who presented the data, said that adding a tailored cancer vaccine based on mRNA technology to Keytruda, which boosts the immune response, might extend the amount of time patients have without recurrence or death.

“From a general cancer therapeutic standpoint, this is a potential major breakthrough,” said Dr. Ryan Sullivan, a melanoma specialist at Mass General Cancer who worked on the study.

The findings, which were presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Florida, add additional specifics to the preliminary findings that the firms provided in December. In the near future, further information will be presented at a medical conference and released in a peer-reviewed publication.

The combination medicine has received breakthrough therapy designation from the United States and PRIME scheme designation from the European Medicines Agency, two regulatory initiatives designed to hasten the development of novel therapies.

The Merck/Moderna partnership is one of many that combines mRNA vaccination technology with potent medications that activate the immune system to attack malignancies. Working on competing mRNA-based cancer vaccines are BioNTech SE and Gritstone Bio Inc.

The patient’s tumors are examined following surgical excision to create a vaccination that is specifically tailored to them. The vaccinations are made to hone the immune system’s capacity to spot and eliminate particular cancer cell abnormalities.

A popular family of immunotherapies known as checkpoint inhibitors, including Merck’s Keytruda, is used to treat melanoma and many other cancers. Checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking the PD-1, or programmed death 1 protein, which aids cancer in evading the immune system.

Similar experimental cancer vaccines targeting a single tumor mutation, or neoantigen, have been created in the past.

Barr characterized the addition of up to 34 neoantigens, made possible by Moderna’s mRNA technology, “astonishing.”

Currently, it is impossible for scientists to determine which particular mutation is crucial for triggering an anti-tumor response. “We can create this shotgun approach… that can create a more potent immune response,” Barr said of using mRNA technology in conjunction with Keytruda.

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