Potential of mRNA vaccines to become versatile cancer vaccines

World J Clin Oncol. 2022 Aug 24;13(8):663-674. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v13.i8.663.


For centuries, therapeutic cancer vaccines have been developed and tried clinically. Way back in the late 19th century, the Father of Immunotherapy, William Coley had discovered that bacterial toxins were effective for inoperable sarcomas. In the 1970s, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine was repurposed, e.g., for advanced melanomas. Then, therapeutic cancer vaccines based on tumor-associated antigens (found on the surfaces of cancer cells) were tried clinically but apparently have not made a really significant clinical impact. For repurposed pathogen vaccines, only the BCG vaccine was approved in 1989 for local application to treat nonmuscle-invading bladder cancers. Although the mildly toxic vaccine adjuvants deliberately added to conventional pathogen vaccines are appropriate for seasonal applications, when repurposed for continual oncology usage, toxicity may be problematic. In 2010, even with the approval of sipuleucel-T as the very first cancer vaccine (dendritic cell) developed for designated prostate cancers, it has also not made a really significant clinical impact. Perhaps more "user friendly" cancer vaccines should be explored. As from approximately 30 years ago, the safety and effectiveness of mRNA vaccination for oncology had already been studied, the current coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, though disastrous, has given such progressively advancing technology a kickstart. For oncology, other virtues of mRNA vaccines seem advantageous, e.g., rapid and versatile development, convenient modular design, and entirely cell-free synthesis, are being progressively recognized. Moreover, mRNAs encoding various oncology antigens for vaccination may also be tested with the combi-nation of relatively non-toxic modalities of oncology treatments, e.g., metformin or metronomic (low-dose, prolonged administration) chemotherapy. Admittedly, robust clinical data obtained through good quality clinical trials are mandatory.

Keywords: Cancer vaccine; Cyclophosphamide; Metformin; Metronomic chemotherapy; Myocarditis; Tumor microenvironment; mRNA vaccine.

Publication types

  • Review