A Moderna study published Tuesday shows the vaccine-maker’s collaboration with biopharma Merck will help patients fight an aggressive form of skin cancer.
In a joint release, the companies announced Moderna’s experimental personalized mRNA cancer vaccine and Merck’s immunotherapy drug Keytruda reduced the risk of death or recurrence of stage III/IV melanoma in high-risk patients by 44%, when compared to treatments using only Keytruda.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells. The five-year survival rates are estimated to be 60.3% for stage III and 16.2% for stage IV.
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Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in the release that the positive findings represented an important milestone in the collaboration with Moderna:
“Over the last six years, our teams have worked closely together combining our respective expertise in mRNA and immuno-oncology with a focus on improving outcomes for patients with cancer.”
Both Moderna and Merck will discuss results with regulatory authorities and initiate a Phase 3 study in melanoma next year while rapidly expanding to additional tumor types.
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Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, said the partnership would also bring individualized cancer treatments to patients.
“We look forward to publishing the full data set and sharing the results at an upcoming oncology medical conference, as well as with health authorities,” Bancel added.
The collaboration was announced in October after Merck exercised its option to jointly develop and commercialize the treatment.
The rates of melanoma have been rising over the past few decades, with nearly 325,000 new cases diagnosed worldwide in 2020. In the U.S., skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed, and melanoma accounts for a large majority of skin cancer deaths. It is estimated there will be nearly 100,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed and almost 8,000 deaths resulting from the disease in the U.S. in 2022.
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