Cancer vaccine may be possible by 2030


Ariel Javellana

Asian Development Bank | Flickr

Jason Chen

The Co-founders of German company BioNTech, married professors believe that a cancer vaccine could be widely available by 2030.

Following their success with producing the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine,  Olzem Tuerci and Ugar Sahin, the married professors behind the company, hope to use mRNA technology from the breakthrough in mRNA vaccines in COVID-19 to replicate similar results to fight cancer. The hopes are to use the proven success of the mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus to be used to treat cancers, such as melanoma, bowel cancer and others.

The approach is to activate the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells. Rather than carrying the code that identifies viruses, the vaccine contains instructions for cancer antigen. Tumors can be made up of a number of different proteins that make it difficult to create a vaccine that targets all cancer cells while also preserving healthy tissues.

“mRNA acts as a blueprint and allows you tell the body to produce the drug or the vaccine and when you use mRNA as a vaccine, the mRNA is a blueprint for the ‘wanted poster’ of the enemy — in this case, cancer antigens which distinguish cancer cells from normal cells,” said Tureci.

Many scientists in the field have been working to find a cure for cancer for decades. Some have used the approach of teaching the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells, which would ideally prevent cancer from growing in the first place. With the speed at which a vaccine was rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists are optimistic for a cancer breakthrough.

“The development of several COVID vaccines in record time showed the possibilities of mRNA vaccine technology, which could one day become an effective treatment to help beat cancer,” Dr. Sam Godfrey, research information lead at Cancer Research United Kingdom, said

Not everyone is happy about this claim of a cancer breakthrough. Moderna, a major pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, is suing BioNTech and its partner Pfizer, for patent infringement, alleging that the mRNA technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine was developed years before the pandemic by Moderna.

Professor Sahin, who has 20 years of experience researching and developing these types of treatment, rebutted these claims saying, “innovations are original,” and will continue to fight for their intellectual property rights.

Even though Tureci and Sahin both claim to be optimistic about the possibility of a vaccine, they recognize that there are many hurdles lying ahead before these breakthroughs come to fruition.