An experimental new mRNA vaccine for cancer is being tested on British patients.

Known as mRNA therapy, the new cancer treatment from Moderna has been administered to patients at Hammersmith hospital in West London. The trial aims to evaluate the therapy’s safety and effectiveness in treating melanoma, lung cancer, and other solid tumors.

The Guardian reports: The new treatment uses genetic material known as messenger RNA – or mRNA – and works by presenting common markers from tumours to the patient’s immune system.

The aim is to help it recognize and fight cancer cells that express those markers.

“New mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies offer an avenue for recruiting the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer,” said Dr David Pinato of Imperial College London, an investigator with the trial’s UK arm.

Pinato said this research was still in its early stages and could take years before becoming available for patients. However, the new trial was laying crucial groundwork that could help develop less toxic and more precise new anti-cancer therapies. “We desperately need these to turn the tide against cancer,” he added.

A number of cancer vaccines have recently entered clinical trials across the globe. These fall into two categories: personalized cancer immunotherapies, which rely on extracting a patient’s own genetic material from their tumors; and therapeutic cancer immunotherapies, such as the mRNA therapy newly launched in London, which are “ready-made” and tailored to a particular type of cancer.

The primary aim of the new trial – Mobilize – is to discover if this type of mRNA therapy is safe and tolerated by patients with lung or skin cancers and can shrink tumours. It will be administered alone in some cases and in combination with the existing cancer drug pembrolizumab in others.

Researchers say that while the experimental therapy is still in the early stages of testing, they hope it may ultimately lead to a new treatment option for difficult-to-treat cancers, should the approach be proven to be safe and effective.

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