After COVID-19, Can mRNA Vaccines Help with Cancer as Well?
Vaccines against Covid-19 were delivered with remarkable and unprecedented speed. The ones pioneered by Moderna in the US and BioNTech in Germany introduced the lay public to a new kind of shot: one that includes mRNA, the nucleic acid that normally carries genetic instructions from the cell nucleus to the part of the cell where proteins are made.
How could this novel technology have come together so rapidly?
In fact, the approach had long been in the works, although it was not initially intended to prevent viral disease. Rather, it was focused on treating cancer, explains Özlem Türeci, cofounder and chief medical officer of BioNTech, the company that developed the Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer.
The anti-cancer rationale goes like this: Since each tumor contains a multitude of genetic mutations that do not occur elsewhere in the body, this should in theory allow our immune system to recognize and destroy those cells. Alas, tumors are known to suppress the immune system. In response, scientists have developed various drugs and treatments to stimulate the immune system in…