The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, but it has also brought enormous advances to the field of biology and medicine. Scientists were able to develop powerful vaccines against the virus, and now, these discoveries could lead to novel treatments for melanoma, bowel cancer, and other tumor types.
The science and other stuff to know
The method used by BioNTech’s COVID vaccine is called messenger RNA (mRNA), and it is highly efficient because it works by introducing a piece of the genetic code of the virus that causes coronavirus infection into the human body. This compound has the necessary genetic information so that our immune system can produce an identical copy of the characteristic spike-shaped protein that the virus has. Thus, the body accesses a genetic registry that allows it to generate antibodies before receiving the virus.
For more than a decade, BioNTech has been working on the development of a cancer vaccine that uses the mRNA method. Its founders, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, were the ones who, together with Pfizer, produced the first mRNA-based vaccination against COVID-19. Similarly, the method can be used to teach immune cells to recognize and kill proteins found in cancerous cells.
“The mRNA acts as a template and allows you to tell the body to make the drug or the vaccine…and when you use the mRNA as a vaccine, the mRNA is a template for the enemy’s ‘wanted cartel’, in this case, cancer antigens that distinguish cancer cells from normal cells,” Tureci explained during an interview with BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.
During the BBC interview, the founders of the German pharmaceutical company announced that mRNA vaccines that can help target cancer could be ready for use before the end of this decade and that their development will give us valuable information useful in developing treatments against melanoma, bowel cancer, and other tumors.
BioNTech’s vaccine pipeline is diverse, encompassing cancers of the bowel, skin, lung, head and neck, prostate, and ovaries. Some of the vaccines are currently in Phase 2 trials. Moreover, Tureci hopes that regulators will be able to apply the same procedures that were used to approve the COVID vaccination to approve cancer vaccines as well, which would ensure that cancer vaccinations are available to patients by 2030.
The successes made during the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the boost it provided to the field of bioengineering and the battle against cancer and other difficult-to-fight diseases, will undoubtedly continue in the future. There are still many hurdles to overcome, such as production costs, treatment effectiveness, and administration stability in patients with various cancer diagnoses. However, it looks like, I f the current rate of research and development continues, we may be able to prevent and cure some types of cancer by 2030.