Moderna continues to tap mRNA gold mine, seeks cancer vaccine approval

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 

Last year, Moderna announced that the company was moving forward with an experimental cancer vaccine that would use mRNA technology. Moderna worked with Merck to create a “personalized cancer vaccine” in combination with the immunotherapy drug KEYTRUDA.

After reporting successful results in clinical trials for melanoma treatment with the combination drug, the pharmaceutical companies claim they are confident that personalized mRNA vaccines could be used to treat heart disease, respiratory infections, and autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Paul Burton, the chief medical officer of pharmaceutical company Moderna, claims that in the next five years, cancer vaccines will be in use for multiple types of cancer, which would save millions of lives, according to The Guardian.


While mRNA technology for vaccines is not new, previous clinical trials did not yield positive results, until the COVID-19 vaccines were granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) during the pandemic. However, experts suggest that the speed of research, development, and authorization set a new precedence for creating new vaccines.

“I think we will have mRNA-based therapies for rare diseases that were previously undruggable, and I think that 10 years from now, we will be approaching a world where you truly can identify the genetic cause of a disease and, with relative simplicity, go and edit that out and repair it using mRNA-based technology,” Burton said.


In 2017, Moderna had eight mRNA prophylactic vaccines that were being researched, developed, or produced and four of those were already involved in clinical trials. These mRNA vaccines can be produced with a single “plug-and-play” technology. This is done by identifying a protein meant to prevent or treat a specific disease and creating an mRNA that carries instructions for this protein that triggers the body’s immune response and begins to produce its own protein.

Although, like the current mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, there is no data available on long-term effects of mRNA technology for personalized vaccines. However, mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have been linked to sudden death, heart inflammation, menstrual cycle changes, and have been found in breastmilk. The vaccines have proven to have questionable safety with a wide range of side effects as well as limited durability, requiring multiple booster shots.


Despite all this, Moderna is eagerly seeking approval for more mRNA shots.

Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel said, “In the hundred-year history of vaccinations, mRNA offers a potential new paradigm,” adding that the company will “continue to invest heavily in our mRNA platform and novel infrastructure to accelerate the pace of R&D because we appreciate the acute global need for a new approach to vaccines and the potential of our mRNA vaccines to prevent disease for millions of people around the world.”

Burton also told The Guardian that mRNA technology has “huge potential” to bring value to many people around the world.

“We want to bring equitable health care to people all around the world,” Burton said. “We want to work with governments and with payers to do that, but I think it’s premature yet to really think about price.”

However, the company has recently come under fire for increasing the cost of the COVID-19 vaccines from $26 per dose to $130 per dose. This new price would make it difficult to have the vaccines available globally as well as make access difficult for some Americans. During a Senate hearing, Bancel justified this price increase by citing a lower demand for the product, which is why the company increased the price by 400%.

Bancel also said that the company needs to address supply chain issues and create a distribution system as the cost transitions to public and private markets and the vaccines become commercialized.