German-developed cancer vaccine expected by 2030
The Turkish-German BioNTech founders Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci have announced that a vaccine to target cancer cells could be ready by 2030.
German company announces cancer vaccine
The German company BioNTech, which developed one of the most successful coronavirus vaccines, has announced that its vaccines to target cancer cells could be available by 2030. In a BBC interview Özlem Türeci, who founded the international company with his wife Uğur Şahin, explained how the mRNA technology that was used in the coronavirus vaccine would be remodelled so that it could condition the immune system to attack cancer cells rather than coronavirus.
The company’s efforts to urgently develop a coronavirus vaccine have meant that BioNTech knows how to manufacture mRNA vaccines more quickly and has a deeper understanding of how the human immune system can react to mRNA. The development would have the potential to revolutionise medicine and healthcare in Germany and internationally. But for now Türeci was keen to express caution: “As scientists we are always hesitant to say we will have a cure for cancer. We have had a number of breakthroughs and we will continue to work on them,” he said to the BBC.
How would the cancer vaccine work?
The mRNA is a molecule which contains instructions for making spike proteins. In the case of the coronavirus vaccine, these instructions are carried out by cells which then produce the spike protein. These spike proteins are antigens which tell the immune system what to look for and attack. Using this mRNA technology, the cancer vaccine would work in a similar way, preparing the immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells. The company is also currently developing ways that the mRNA molecule could be used in malaria vaccines.
If their research is successful, the company hopes to find treatments for bowel cancer and melanoma. However, overcoming some significant scientific hurdles will remain a challenge. Since cancerous tumours are made up of a variety of proteins, BioNTech is yet to understand how to develop a vaccine which targets only cancer cells and not healthy tissues.