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Vaccines and Viruses in Drug Delivery, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Vaccines: Vaccines cannot prevent cancer, but they can help fight it.  Vaccines that are used to fight existing cancers are called therapeutic vaccines.  (Vaccines that prevent disease are known as prophylactic vaccines.)  The basic principle is to teach the immune system to identify tumors as an enemy and help fight them.  For the most part, this is done by introducing an altered, harmless form of the cancer into the patient, much like a classic vaccine.  As techniques have been refined, scientists have been able to find the specific proteins that have proven to be the most effective in educating the body to fight cancer.
Highly personalized vaccines would require multiple steps.  Each patient would be biopsied, and the collected tissue would undergo full genome sequencing.  The results would be analyzed, and individual vaccines would then be designed and manufactured.  Genentech is a pioneer in this field.
Pharmaceutical companies and universities around the world are developing dozens of vaccines.  These vaccines target the most common types of cancer including melanoma, kidney, lung and breast cancer.  They have proven effective enough to send the cancers into remission or, at the very least, slow the spread of the cancer.  One woman with late-stage melanoma experienced a remission of the cancer for 32 months after being treated with an early vaccine.  Although not all of the vaccines have proven so effective, the prospects are certainly remarkable; many have even reached late-stage human trials.  Many of these vaccines have been in clinical trials for the treatment of kidney, prostate and colorectal cancer, as well as metastatic melanoma.  Unfortunately, most clinical trial results have been disappointing.
However, as of late 2022, Moderna, Inc. had a customized vaccine in mid-stage trial that decreases the recurrence of melanoma when used in combination with a cancer immunotherapy known as Keytruda.  Another exception is a vaccine developed by Dendreon for the treatment of cancer.  The company’s prostate cancer vaccine, Provenge, was released in 2010.
Biopharma companies are working on vaccines to carry specific proteins that can stimulate the human immune system to have a desired response to an infectious disease.  For example, biotech vaccines that fight hepatitis B have been introduced.  Vaccines are under development at various firms for such conditions as herpes and tuberculosis.
Viruses: Yet another weapon for the war on cancer is a growing assortment of viruses that replicate in tumors and thereby kill them, while sparing healthy tissue.  Viruses are also being developed with the ability to carry a gene into a cancer, which makes the tumor more vulnerable to radiation and chemotherapy.  This new method will also lessen the side effects associated with conventional treatments.
Onyx Pharmaceuticals and the former Calydon (now part of Cell Genesys) pioneered the modern application of viruses to cancer cells, using variants of the adenovirus (the cause of the common cold) to attack tumors.  Research continues at various biotechnology companies and institutions such as Johns Hopkins.  One of the most prevalent techniques is engineering the viruses to attack cells with certain active proteins or enzymes.  For example, a virus that attacks cells with excessive amounts of melanin (the protein that makes cells darken) could be used for the destruction of melanoma cancer cells.
The Ludwig Cancer Research center described the results of a study in which a virus from birds (the Newcastle disease virus which normally does not affect humans) was injected directly into melanoma tumors that had been implanted in mice.  Next, scientists injected an antibody that encourages immune system to react to the melanoma.  This combination of virus and antibody therapy created an immune system response that was so powerful that the melanoma tumors were destroyed.  The same research has shown significant promise for attacking colorectal and prostate tumors.  Meanwhile, Amgen received approval from the FDA for its talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) melanoma treatment in October 2015, based on a virus, the first oncolytic virus therapy to gain approval in the U.S.
The Coronavirus pandemic spurred a landmark breakthrough with the rapid development of vaccines using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.  mRNA is a molecule of RNA that carries genetic information to ribosomes, which then create proteins that include the delivered genes.  The technology enables rapid development time by utilizing the body’s own molecular ability to teach cells how to mimic a protein similar to that found in the vaccine, thereby triggering an immune response.  In addition, mRNA vaccines can be adjusted quickly so that vaccines will respond to virus mutations and declines in immunity.  Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the Coronavirus were developed using mRNA.  In addition, BioNTech SE, based in Germany, had 21 mRNA products in its clinical pipeline as of early 2022 to use in oncology (including melanoma and colon cancer) and infectious diseases.

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