A vaccine for cancer may be a reality within the decade, according to the husband and wife duo behind the successful Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.
Professors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, co-founders of the German company BioNTech, have been researching new technology for years involving messenger RNA [mRNA] that they are hopeful could treat various types of cancers.
Sahin told the BBC that he believes a cancer vaccine could be widely available “before 2030.”
Several trials for the vaccine are already underway, which started long before the pandemic and have already shown signs of promise.
BioNTech, founded in 2008, partnered with US pharma giant Pfizer during the COVID-19 pandemic to use its mRNA technology to develop a vaccine for the virus in a matter of months thanks to the breakthrough in mRNA vaccines — which teach human cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response.
The married couple hopes the proven success of the mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus can be effective in treating cancers, such as melanoma, bowel cancer and others.
“What we have developed over decades for cancer vaccine development has been the tailwind for developing the COVID-19 vaccine, and now the Covid-19 vaccine and our experience in developing it gives back to our cancer work,” Tureci said.
“mRNA acts as a blueprint and allows you to 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.”
While it may be years before the vaccine can be touted as a “cure” for cancer, researchers are learning more about how to fight the disease with each trial.
“Every step, every patient we treat in our cancer trials helps us to find out more about what we are against and how to address that,” said Tureci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer.
Moderna, who also developed a successful COVID-19 vaccine, filed a lawsuit against Pfizer and BioNTech in August for patent infringement, alleging they copied mRNA technology that Moderna developed years before the pandemic.
Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO, declared that his company’s “innovations are original.”
“We have spent 20 years of research in developing these types of treatments and of course we will fight for this, for our intellectual property,” he said.