Applying mRNA Technology to Develop a Breast Cancer Vaccine
By Silvia Gambacorta Hoffman
In the past, vaccines have taken years and sometime decades to develop. Recently, the success and the speed of execution of mRNA COVID vaccines has opened many doors and possibilities.
I am particularly interested in the ongoing efforts toward the development of an mRNA vaccine for breast cancer, a topic introduced during the 2021 National Breast Cancer Coalition* Advocate Leadership Summit. This workshop was presented by Nathaniel Wang PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer of Replicate Bioscience.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology has been around for decades and the recent COVID vaccines were developed using this innovation. Self-replicating RNA was utilized by the Imperial College of London to produce one of these vaccines. This technology is derived from viruses. All the genes responsible for the viral shell are taken out and replaced with genes that have therapeutic effects. These vaccines are fully synthetic and, because they mimic a viral infection, they replicate quickly, thereby achieving a superior immunological response.
Ninety percent of cancer deaths are attributed to drug resistance, which develops over time. Injecting patients with an mRNA breast cancer vaccine before the drugs fail would give the immune system a chance to ramp up production of T-cells. These cells recognize mutations within our body, destroying the affected cells and thereby stopping the disease from progressing to more advanced stages. The mRNA vaccine can also intercept and prevent transition events that lead to breast cancer in the first place.
The mRNA vaccine for Breast Cancer was designed with the following requirements:
- To be useable by all breast cancer patients
- To be applicable to all breast cancer mutations
- To be very low in cost ($300 for a course of treatment)
The vaccine is manufactured using a completely synthetic process that begins by combining different enzymes in an aqueous solution of salt and mRNA components. After an eight-hour reaction and a sterile filtration, the active pharmaceutical ingredients are produced. It’s a rapid process with a high yield (99.5% pure RNA, 5-6 mg/mL for each reaction).
The breast cancer vaccine is safe, cost accessible, and easy to administer. In addition, it is well tolerated and can be combined with other therapies thanks to its low toxicity profile. With a per-dose price tag between $30 and $100, the low cost is another attractive component of this technology. Similar to the COVID vaccine, the breast cancer vaccine is easy to dispense through injection into the patient’s arm.
The side effects are comparable to those experienced with the COVID vaccine: fatigue, chills, and low grade fever for the first 36 – 48 hours, and no long-term side effects.
Phase I clinical trials, which use a small number of patients, have already shown some promising results. One study showed that the patients who received the vaccine had active T-cells that were able to kill cancer, as well as develop “T-cell memory”. In other words, the effects are long-lasting. In fact, one of the functions of T-cells is to patrol the body looking for future cells with mutations and helping to kill them. The vaccinated patients showed improvement in late stage cancers as well as those with early stage breast cancer.
I feel it is important to invest in this new technology and in research with the goal of eradicating breast cancer. Hopefully, breast cancer will one day be, like smallpox, an extremely rare disease.
*The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester is an independent, local organization unaffiliated with any national group, including the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Some of our goals are similar to those of NBCC and our Advocates attend their annual Advocate Leadership Summit; however, the similarities in the names are coincidental.
This story appeared in the Winter 2022 newsletter, Voices of the Ribbon.