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Fighting colon cancer: MD Anderson testing use of mRNA vaccines as a cancer treatment

A new clinical trial will test if mRNA vaccines can eradicate cancer for stage two and stage three colon cancer patients.

HOUSTON — More than 100 million Americans have gotten two doses of Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. Both are mRNA vaccines, which use cutting edge technology never authorized for use before.

Dr. Van Morris with MD Anderson says the technology was developed years before the pandemic. It was originally intended as a treatment for cancer.

“For the example of the COVID-19 vaccine, we’re using the mRNA vaccine to prevent something which the body hasn’t already been exposed to. In the case of our clinical trial at MD Anderson, we’re doing the opposite,” said Dr. Morris, a medical oncologist.

Stage two and stage three cancer patients

Morris said their clinical trial will test if mRNA vaccines can eradicate cancer already in the body for stage two and stage three colon cancer patients who have gotten tumors surgically removed. Doctors are able to perform a blood test to see if microscopic cancer cells are left behind, which is called circulating DNA.

If a patient has circulating DNA, there is a higher chance their cancer will return. The clinical trial will offer those patients an individual mRNA vaccine tailored to the cancer in their body.

Same company that makes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

The personal mRNA vaccines will be made by BioNTech, which is the same company that makes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“With a lot of cancer treatments in general, they’re often administered as a one size fits all treatment. With this, each person is getting their own personalized vaccines,” Dr. Morris said.

Early trials have determined the technology is safe. This summer, MD Anderson will enroll patients in Phase II clinical trial to see if it works.

“This technology is not specific to colon cancer. It can be applied to breast cancer, lung cancer. Really any tumor you can find a mutation in,” Dr. Morris said.