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UK begins clinical trial for experimental mRNA therapy for cancer


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An 81-year-old man with treatment-resistant malignant melanoma was the first person in the UK to receive the new immunotherapy treatment.

Cancer patients in the UK are being given a new immunotherapy treatment at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust as part of a global phase 1/2 clinical trial, which aims to evaluate its safety and potential for treating ‘solid tumour’ cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer.

The experimental therapy, called mRNA-4359, has been designed to train patients’ immune systems to recognise and fight cancer cells, according to researchers at Imperial College London.

For the first time in the UK, cancer patients received the treatment at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Imperial Clinical Research Facility at Hammersmith Hospital.

In this non-randomised trial, mRNA-4359 is administered to patients either alone or in combination with an existing cancer drug called pembrolizumab, a type of immune checkpoint inhibitor.

The researchers are hopeful that this new therapeutic approach, if proven to be safe and effective in clinical trials, could lead to a new treatment option for difficult-to-treat cancers.

Dr David Pinato, who is an investigator of the UK arm of the trial, expressed concern that cancer prevalence remains high diagnosis despite huge advances in screening, detection and care.

“It’s estimated that half of us will experience cancer in our lifetime,” he was quoted as saying in a report by the university.

“This research is still in the early stages and may be a number of years from being available to patients, but this trial is laying crucial groundwork that is moving us closer towards new therapies that are potentially less toxic and more precise.

“We desperately need these to turn the tide against cancer,” he added.

An 81-year-old man from Surrey with treatment-resistant malignant melanoma became the first person in the UK to receive the experimental mRNA therapy in late October as part of the clinical trial.

The patient shared that he had already received a different immunotherapy and radiotherapy in the past, but not chemotherapy.

He is hopeful that many more patients will be receiving the treatment and that it is going to be successful.

The Imperial trial is sponsored by pharmaceutical company Moderna and is being undertaken through the Moderna-UK Strategic Partnership.

The early-phase clinical trials will continue for a period of up to 34 months with patients recruited from across the globe.


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