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Cancer vaccines could be game changing, but they’re not a one-shot solution to beating cancer

Dr Iain Foulkes
by Iain Foulkes | Opinion

26 April 2024

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Vaccine vial and needle

The science that helped bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control is continuing to show promise in treating other diseases.  

I recently returned from a large conference of cancer experts in the US where there were several presentations on promising early trials of cancer vaccines. Things are really moving in the right direction to bring this type of treatment to more patients sooner. 

Today’s announcement about Moderna and MSD’s melanoma cancer vaccine moving to Phase 3 clinical trials means the vaccine will now be tested in a larger number of patients with melanoma post-surgery, to ensure it is an effective treatment for this type of cancer. 

If the trial is successful, the same technology could be potentially used to target other cancers in combination with existing treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. 

It’s not just Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine technology being repurposed: Cancer Research UK and the CRIS Cancer Foundation recently announced up to £1.7million funding to investigate whether Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine platform can be used to make LungVax, the world’s first vaccine to prevent lung cancer. 

We also shouldn’t forget that the HPV vaccine has reduced cases of cervical cancer by nearly 90% in women in their 20s who received the vaccine at age 12 to 13. It’s possible that we could eliminate this cancer type as a public health problem. 

As there are over 200 types of cancer, vaccines are unlikely to be a solution to beating all cancer types. We desperately need a systemic approach to addressing the complex challenges associated with cancer.  

Research must be sufficiently funded to make more breakthroughs possible. We face a R&D funding gap of more than £1billion by the end of the next decade in cancer research. We want to work with all major political parties, industry and academia to ensure we can plug this gap and ensure the innovations of tomorrow reach patients. 

We need long-term strategies for cancer care to help diagnose more cases earlier, reduce inequalities in accessing treatment, and reduce waiting times. We also need to make sure that groundbreaking therapies, should they become available, are accessible to all. 

Cancer vaccines progressing through clinical trials are exciting news. These breakthroughs should give us much cause to be optimistic, but we can’t lose sight of the complex challenges ahead, tackling them head on will benefit all of us in the long run. 

Dr Iain Foulkes

Iain Foulkes

About the author

Iain Foulkes is Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK .



This article was originally published in iNews  

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