Mainz-based Biontech is still on the path to success with a Covid-19 vaccine. But what will happen next? Is a modified Omicron vaccine soon? Where else can mRNA technology be used?
When will the Omicron vaccine come from Biontech?
This is still not entirely clear – the European Medicines Agency requested study data in March, which according to the biotech should be available by the beginning of May – almost now. Biontech once again confirmed that the data should already be available within the next few weeks. The regulatory authority will take a close look at the results and may then decide whether to green-light the modified vaccine.
Clinical trials this time differ from the first approved vaccine. The Omicron vaccine will be tested on a much smaller number this time around – about 2,000 volunteers, compared to more than 30,000 approved vaccines. Of course, this is because the Omicron vaccine is not entirely new, it has just been adapted.
And for the purpose of side effects, the requirements are no longer strict. The fewer people in the studies seem to be less effort. But there are some challenges with the Omikron vaccine: In clinical trials, the Omikron vaccine must rival an already approved vaccine, and of course it should be significantly better.
Fortunately, most people with the current vaccine are well protected from very severe cycles and many have also contracted the coronavirus. So the big question is: Can the Omicron vaccine better prevent severe cycles? This is of course anything but of course.
In the future, the question will arise about how quickly a vaccine can be adapted and, above all, approval of a more threatening variant of Omicron or Delta. The terms of the framework are still not entirely clear.
Regardless of Corona, what are your visions for the future?
In addition to Corona, Biontech wants to test vaccines against influenza and malaria this year – a lot for infectious diseases. But Biontech’s actual vision is different. Biontech founders Ugar Sahin and Özlem Tureci want to treat as many types of cancer as possible.
The two met in Saarland while working with cancer patients and have been hoping for a breakthrough in cancer medicine ever since. The m-RNA, which we know from corona vaccines, also plays a crucial role here.
In the future, mRNA technology could be used to train the immune system against cancer cells. Unfortunately, cancer cells are not always recognized by the body as an enemy. mRNA therapy can change that. Instead of training on the coronavirus, the immune system is trained on cancer cells with mRNA therapy.
mRNA vaccines have made great progress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But this approach is not entirely new. mRNA technology actually comes from cancer research.
What does Biontech mean by “personalized cancer medicine”?
This is the big vision. Even with one type of cancer — pancreatic cancer, for example — the tumor varies from person to person. So one drug that’s standard for all types of pancreatic cancer has its limitations – simply because cancer is so different.
That’s why Biontech is researching m-RNA vaccines that can be tailored to each individual patient – that is, the patient’s cancer cells are analyzed and then treatment tailored to individual outcomes. Biontech wants to get better at the necessary analysis of cancer cells. Only when the weaknesses in each tumor cell can be reliably identified, can individual drugs be produced for cancer patients. This treatment can work for many different types of cancer.
But Biontech isn’t just doing research with m-RNA. In the future, many research teams would like to alter a patient’s immune cells in their body so that these immune cells will be better able to recognize cancer. In April, Biontech reported initial preliminary results for prostate and ovarian cancer, which look good at least at this early stage.
Biontech is currently working on a total of 16 research approaches with 20 clinical studies underway. Studies on skin cancer and colon cancer are the furthest. If this approach works, it is possible to envision drugs against many other types of cancer.