Around 240,000 people die each year in Germany as a result of cancer. The Biontech founders are now raising hopes for vaccines against the dangerous disease.
Chemotherapies, radiation therapies or stem cell transplants: There are now various treatment methods in the fight against cancer. However, a vaccine such as the one developed for the coronavirus after only one year does not yet exist.
But there is: Biontech founders Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin announced in an interview with the “Bild” newspaper that they want to develop individual vaccines against cancer as well. This is because before the scientists worked on a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, they were already researching cancer therapies.
As part of a phase II trial, the first patient has now been treated with the active substance BNT111, Biontech announced on June 18. The trial, involving a total of 120 patients, will examine the efficacy, tolerability and safety of BNT111 in combination with Libtayo (cemiplimab) for the treatment of a form of skin cancer. Four other cancer vaccines from the company are in clinical development, he said.
Immune system as interface between corona and cancer
Türeci explained in the interview that the immune system should be seen as a kind of interface between different diseases. “When we realized many years ago that there was a need for improvement in the field of cancer medicine, we thought to ourselves, ‘The immune system is the key.’ And that we wanted to develop immunotherapies,” she says.
“In other words, mechanisms that the immune system has perfected over millions of years of evolution to fight viruses or bacteria, we want to use specifically to treat cancer,” Türeci says. Then, at the beginning of the pandemic, they realized that cancer research technologies could also be used for the virus.
That also meant that the pandemic had slowed down cancer research, the two scientists elaborate. But now, they say, studies can be accelerated again – thanks to the revenue generated from the production of the Corona vaccines.
Cancer vaccine also based on mRNA technology
Like the Covid 19 vaccine developed with Pfizer, Biontech’s cancer vaccine uses novel messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which conveys information to human cells to produce proteins and thus fight pathogens.
Groundbreaking data sets could be available as early as the next two years, with initial regulatory filings possible as early as 2023. “Our vision is to harness the power of the body’s own defense mechanisms against cancer and infectious diseases,” Türeci explained. “We must not forget that cancers are also a major threat to global health, even far worse than the current pandemic.”