Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have become a household name since their rapid implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some may be surprised that the development of these vaccines began before the pandemic, for the treatment of cancer.
The SU2C–Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Convergence Research Team, co-led by Vinod Balachandran, MD and Benjamin Greenbaum, PhD at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, launched the first Phase 1 clinical trial in December 2019 to test a personalized mRNA vaccine as a therapy for pancreatic cancer — a full year before mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 became available. This team received funding from SU2C in 2018 with support from the Lustgarten Foundation, as a part of the Pancreatic Cancer Collective. The vaccine developed for the trial was tailored to recognize the cancer cells present in each trial participant’s pancreatic cancer tumor and stimulate the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.