Role of mRNA in cancer treatment

Aman Kumar

With both of the existing Covid-19 vaccinations authorized for essential use by the FDA, the potential for mRNA treatments has been emphasized by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. However, mRNA’s promise extends beyond that, including the treatment of various viral illnesses, genetic disorders, and potentially cancer.

Cells utilize mRNA to convert DNA to proteins, which may subsequently be used to restore missing or faulty proteins and even to prepare a patient’s immune system to combat infections or malignant cells.

Illustration of -cell displaying antibodies created in response to foreign protein fragments produced from a personalized mRNA vaccine recognizes a colorectal cancer cell and signals killer T-cells to destroy it.
A B-cell displaying antibodies created in response to foreign protein fragments produced from a personalized mRNA vaccine recognizes a colorectal cancer cell and signals killer T-cells to destroy it.

In the case of Covid-19, mRNA vaccinations tell cells to make proteins that trigger an immune response, resulting in antibodies that protect against subsequent infections with the virus.

Applications of mRNA

We can say that mRNA-based therapies have the potential to cure a wide range of diseases. Vaccines, uncommon genetic disorders, and cancer are three areas where mRNA therapies are currently being developed.

Hence, mRNA might hold the key to developing customized cancer treatments. Healthcare professionals may develop and produce mRNA treatments tailored to patients’ individual tumor genetics using a combination of artificial intelligence, liquid biopsies, and genetic screening.   Therefore, mRNA may be used to generate cancer-specific proteins that train the immune system to recognize and attack just a tumor, similar to vaccinations (and not healthy tissue).

There are around 150 mRNA-focused clinical studies now underway for prostate cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, and blood cancers, and other diseases.

• Moderna has developed dozens of potential mRNA treatments and vaccines, few of them are in collaboration with Big Pharma heavyweights like Merck and AstraZeneca, to treat genetic disorders, cancer, heart disease, HIV, and influenza.

• BioNTech is working on a comparable series of innovative mRNA research and studies initiatives for cancer, TB, and influenza.

• CureVac, a prominent mRNA biotech firm, has also begun research into a half-dozen additional possible medicinal applications.

BioNTech originated as more than just a cancer-focused mRNA therapies business, and their collaborative Covid-19 vaccination with Pfizer was licensed in late 2020. Neck cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, as well as other solid tumors are among the 19 therapeutic candidates in the company’s pipeline. It is well-positioned to use mRNA therapies to treat cancer and other illnesses, with pharmaceutical partners like Sanofi, Genentech, and Pfizer.

One of the most dreaded human diseases is malignant melanoma (pink). It spreads quickly and may infect almost every organ from its point of origin, including the lung in this case. The hues in these pictures do not reflect the real pigmentation of such cells.

Stage one and stage two clinical studies to investigate the safety, tolerability, and effectiveness of therapeutic mRNA vaccinations to treat various types of cancer are now recruiting volunteers or are in progress. Pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, lung cancer, and melanoma are only a few examples.

The impact of mRNA on the pharmaceutical sector

mRNA is indeed a single-stranded molecule that is found naturally in all of our cells. mRNA is a kind of RNA that transmits instructions for cells to produce proteins through our genes, which are utilized as building blocks in their essential structures and activities. It was first discovered in 1961. Without getting too scientific, a portion of DNA is replicated into mRNA, which instructs our cells to produce particular proteins, a few of which induce or prevent illness. Our immune systems respond by producing these innocuous proteins and developing the capabilities necessary to identify and eliminate that virus once we get infected.

mRNA isn’t a novel concept. For decades, scientists have been diving into the secrets of mRNA, trying to figure out what function it could play in disease. Long even before the COVID-19 pandemic offered the chance to harness mRNA to produce a new form of vaccine, CureVac, BioNTech, and Moderna were researching the potential medicinal advantages of mRNA. The fact that mRNA fights disease in a totally different manner than most medicines on the market is why it has such promise. According to, the government clearinghouse for active research worldwide, numerous clinical trials are already in various phases of evaluating mRNA as a means to prevent or cure infections and chronic illnesses.

• Moderna is collaborating with Merck on a clinical trial treating individuals suffering colorectal as well as head and neck cancers that combine a customized mRNA cancer vaccine with the immunotherapy medication Keytruda. The early results, which were released in November, were encouraging.

• AstraZeneca is putting a novel mRNA-based heart failure therapy to the test.

• Translate Bio Inc. has been researching cystic fibrosis mRNA.

• Intellia Therapeutics, a CRISPR editing firm, is testing an mRNA-based treatment for transthyretin amyloidosis, a rare hereditary illness.

• Other businesses are investigating the use of mRNA to treat diseases including pancreatic, ovarian, and lung tumors.

Challenges for mRNA Therapy

Even with the best possible delivery method, mRNA vaccines are unlikely to be a cure-all for all malignancies. They are, nevertheless, another potential therapy option for advanced or incurable malignancies. Researchers are also looking into combining mRNA vaccines with the other immune-based therapies like immune checkpoint (that also discharge a natural brake somewhat on the immune system such that T cells can recognize and attack tumors) as well as adoptive T cell treatment (wherein T cells are collected from a patient’s blood or tumor, energized to grow in the lab, and then reinfused into the patient to help them treat the tumor cells by immune of the body.


If mRNA vaccines appear to really be successful, doctors and researchers want to build vaccinations to treat specific tumors, prevent recurrences, and maybe even prevent cancer in people who are genetically susceptible to it. If mRNA therapies are as effective as the COVID-19 vaccinations, they might revolutionize the pharmaceutical business.

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