Merck & Co and Moderna Proceed with Cancer Vaccine

18.10.2022 - US drugmaker Merck & Co is going ahead with plans to develop a therapeutic cancer vaccine called mRNA-4157 together with Covid vaccine maker Moderna. This fulfills an agreement first signed in 2016 and amended in 2018.

In a phase 2 trial being conducted by Moderna, the companies are evaluating the vaccine’s potential use in in combination with Merck’s cancer allrounder Keytruda as an adjuvant treatment for patients with high-risk melanoma.

In 2016, Merck agreed to pay Moderna $200 million upfront for collaboration on a series of personalized cancer vaccines (PCVs) including mRNA-4157. One potential candidate was jettisoned earlier, reports noted.

PCVs are designed to prompt a patient’s immune system to produce a tailored anti-tumor response. MRNA-4157, which encodes up to 34 neoantigens, is targeted to generate T-cell responses based on the mutational signature of a patient's tumor.

In leveraging its license to push mRNA-4157 development forward, Merck  will give Moderna a $250 million payout.  Potential profits if the candidate reaches the market are planned to be shared equally.

Primary data from the 157-participant KEYNOTE-942 trial, in which participants  received up to nine doses of mRNA-4157 at 21-day intervals, is expected before the end of this year. 

Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, said that continuing the strategic alliance with Merck “is an important milestone as we continue to grow our mRNA platform with promising clinical programs in multiple therapeutic areas.” 

“This long-term collaboration combining Merck’s expertise in immuno-oncology with Moderna’s pioneering mRNA technology has yielded a novel tailored vaccine approach,” Eliav Barr, senior vice president and head of global clinical development and chief medical officer at Merck Research Laboratories, commented.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist