First UK patients receive experimental messenger RNA cancer therapy

A revolutionary new cancer treatment known as mRNA therapy has been administered to patients at Hammersmith hospital in west London. The trial has been set up to evaluate the therapy’s safety and effectiveness in treating melanoma, lung cancer and other solid tumours.

The new treatment uses genetic material known as messenger RNA – or mRNA – and works by presenting common markers from tumours to the patient’s immune system.

The aim is to help it recognise and fight cancer cells that express those markers.

“New mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies offer an avenue for recruiting the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer,” said Dr David Pinato of Imperial College London, an investigator with the trial’s UK arm.

Pinato said this research was still in its early stages and could take years before becoming available for patients. However, the new trial was laying crucial groundwork that could help develop less toxic and more precise new anti-cancer therapies. “We desperately need these to turn the tide against cancer,” he added.

A number of cancer vaccines have recently entered clinical trials across the globe. These fall into two categories: personalised cancer immunotherapies, which rely on extracting a patient’s own genetic material from their tumours; and therapeutic cancer immunotherapies, such as the mRNA therapy newly launched in London, which are “ready made” and tailored to a particular type of cancer.

The primary aim of the new trial – known as Mobilize – is to discover if this particular type of mRNA therapy is safe and tolerated by patients with lung or skin cancers and can shrink tumours. It will be administered alone in some cases and in combination with the existing cancer drug pembrolizumab in others.

Researchers say that while the experimental therapy is still in the early stages of testing, they hope it may ultimately lead to a new treatment option for difficult-to-treat cancers, should the approach be proven to be safe and effective.

Nearly one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. A range of therapies have been developed to treat patients, including chemotherapy and immune therapies.

However, cancer cells can become resistant to drugs, making tumours more difficult to treat, and scientists are keen to seek new approaches for tackling cancers.

Preclinical testing in both cell and animal models of cancer provided evidence that new mRNA therapy had an effect on the immune system and could be offered to patients in early-phase clinical trials.