In a nutshell: Starting this September in England, BioNTech, the German company that developed one of the most widely used Covid-19 vaccines alongside Pfizer, will begin clinical trials of personalized cancer vaccines based on the same mRNA technology found in its Covid shots.
Following the Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, BioNTech wants to use the same messenger-ribonucleic-acid technology (mRNA) tech in other therapies, including cancer vaccines. The treatments, tailor-made for an individual, provide immune systems with genetic code from a specific cancer so only the tumor can be targeted. An improvement over chemotherapy, which attacks many cells, including healthy ones. Essentially, the mRNA vaccines will contain a genetic blueprint to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells only.
BioNTech's partnership with the UK government could see the treatments provided to around 10,000 UK patients by 2030.
"Once cancer is detected, we need to ensure the best possible treatments are available as soon as possible, including for breast, lung, and pancreatic cancer," said UK health secretary Steve Barclay.
"BioNTech helped lead the world on a Covid-19 vaccine, and they share our commitment to scientific advancement, innovation, and cutting-edge scientific technology, making them perfect partners for a deal to work together on cancer vaccines."
Some of the patients in the trial will have cancer that has already been treated—it's hoped the vaccine will stop it from returning. The trial will also involve those with advanced cancers that the treatment could shrink. Several doses of the vaccine might be required in both cases.
BioNTech co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin said the agreement came about through the lessons learned during the pandemic about how the UK's publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) worked with academia, the regulator, and the private sector to roll out the vaccines so quickly. "And then there is the genomic-analysis capabilities. The UK is one of the leading nations in that regard," Sahin said.
BioNTech's investment will also include setting up a new research and development hub and offices in the UK.
mRNA is expensive to produce—it's predicted that the market could be worth $23 billion by 2035—though BioNTech says its cancer vaccines will be affordable for healthcare systems. Details of the UK deal haven't been revealed, but for the heavily stretched NHS, which is currently in the middle of a massive nursing strike over a pay offer, the effectiveness of the cancer vaccines would have to make their price justifiable.