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Cancer & COVID-19

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

mRNA driving future cancer therapeutcs

Thanks to Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, discussion of mRNA vaccines became mainstream in 2020. However, research into the potential of mRNA therapeutics dates back several decades, and extends well beyond the prevention of infectious disease. In the 1990s, mRNA cancer vaccines had shown promising results in mice, but there were many obstacles to overcome. Innovations in lipid nanoparticle platforms (LNP) to allow targeted delivery and improvements to molecular stability over the last decade since the founding of Moderna (contraction of "modified RNA) in 2009 have revolutionised possible applications. There are now several mRNA therapeutics in phase 1 and 2 clinical trials for melanoma using different strategies to enhance the immune response to tumour cells.

Cancer innovation stimulated by COVID-19

COVID-19 has forced innovation throughout healthcare. Fewer face-to-face interactions. Limitations on capacity because of the need to treat COVID-19 patients and the need to prevent further infections. A plethora of new cancer services have sprung up including remote consultations, community cancer services, home screening tests and home administration of treatment. But the benefits should outlive the current pandemic, with many oncologists intending that some new services should be embedded into cancer care pathways, such as telephone and online patient consultations with 78% support.

This will require significant support from the pharmaceutical and technology sectors and the Cancer Tech Accelerator programme was launched on 26 March by Cancer Research UK and Capital Enterprise, with support from Roche UK, to enable academic researchers to develop technology-led innovations into start-up ventures in the areas of early detection, diagnosis, monitoring or treatment of cancer. It all starts with a three-day virtual boot camp, leading to 5 research teams being awarded £50,000 for a six month innovation sprint.

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