Messenger RNA vaccines are a growing therapeutic area and are not only be useful against infectious diseases but could also be used against cancer.
You have most likely heard of Covid-19 messenger RNA vaccines such as Comirnaty and how they have shown to very important to the fight against SARS-Cov-2. There is also another area of clinical research where messenger RNA technology is showing great potential: cancer immunotherapy. In fact, great therapeutic advances in the fight against cancer have been made in this field of research during the last decade. The current challenge now however is to be able to induce a strong anti-tumor immune response in vivo. Messenger RNA vaccines could be part of the solution, according to a recent study by Chinese scientists published in Proceedings National Academy of Sciences.
The Messenger RNA is very fragile
A messenger RNA is a very fragile molecule. To ensure that it reaches its target, researchers have developed a lipid nanoparticle (LNP) capsule, in which the messenger RNA is protected until it enters the cell. Using a fluorescence method, the scientists were able to trace the path of this capsule and its passengers. The goal is to ensure that the messenger RNA arrives intact at its destination. Compared to the other methods of messenger RNA transport studied, this capsule proved to be the most suitable for this delicate job. The capsule is described by the authors as very flexible and could serve as a versatile platform to produce a personalized and effective vaccine for cancer treatment.
Robust immune response and tumor prevention
In specific cell culture experiments, the RNA vaccine induced a robust immune response. There is evidence of the expression of many markers of innate immunity, as well as metabolic and genetic pathways that lead to a cellular environment that is not conducive to tumor growth. In vivo, in mice, the distribution of the vaccine in cells remains consistent with that observed in vitro.
Finally, the researchers wanted to evaluate the anti-tumor potential of their vaccine in mice. Therefore, they divided the rodents into three groups: a control group and two groups that were to be injected with cancer cell lines, either with a vaccine containing the messenger RNA in a protein (ovalbumin) or with the capsule in question. The mice that received the vaccine with the lipid nanoparticle showed significantly less tumor growth than the other groups.
Finally, this vaccine showed no alarming signs of safety at the level of biological markers. Therefore, the authors believe that there is no significant risk at this time and the vaccine offers a good option for cancer treatment. Still, more research is needed on this technology before it becomes available to cancer patients.