Technology honed in the fight against Covid-19 could make cancer vaccines available by 2030.

Ugur Şahin and Özlem Çureçi co-founded BioNTech, a German company that partnered with Pfizer to produce Covid-19 mRNA vaccine which would prove vital in the global fight to end the pandemic. Now they say they have made further breakthroughs that could “lead to new treatments for melanoma, bowel cancer and other types of tumors,” according to BBC.

Speaking on the BBC Sunday with Laura KuensbergShaheen said mRNA-based cancer vaccines could be ready for use in patients “by 2030.” Guardian reported.

BioNTech is conducting “several trials,” according to the broadcaster, “including one where patients are given a personalized vaccine to make their immune system attack their disease.”

How can a cancer vaccine work?

As The Guardian explained, the Covid mRNA vaccine works by “carrying into the body the genetic instructions for the virtually harmless adhesion proteins of the Covid virus”.

These instructions are then “received by cells that produce the spike protein.” The proteins, known as antigens, “are then used as ‘search posters’ – telling the immune system’s antibodies and other defense mechanisms what to look for and attack.”

Shahin and Ciurechi hope the vaccine is on target cancer will work through a similar process, although in this case, the vaccine will promote the creation of “cancer antigens that distinguish cancer cells from normal cells,” explained Türeci.

mNRA vaccines in the context of a pandemic

BioNTech was originally working on cancer vaccines before the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, but the company “turned to the production of Covid vaccines in the face of a global emergency,” according to The Guardian.

He hopes to develop treatments for bowel cancer, melanoma and other cancers, but there are “significant hurdles” to overcome. Tumor cells are “strewn with a wide range of different proteins,” which can make it “extremely difficult to create a vaccine that targets all cancer cells and not healthy tissue,” the paper explains.

Speaking to Kuensberg, Ciurechi said the pandemic has given the company an opportunity to learn how to make mRNA vaccines faster, as well as to better understand how patients’ immune systems respond to mRNA.

The speed with which Covid vaccines have been developed and deployed during the pandemic has also streamlined the process of vaccine approval by medical regulators – all of which will “certainly accelerate our cancer vaccine,” Ciurechi said.

Are cures for cancer available?

While Shaheen and Ciurechi argued that a cure for cancer is “within our hands,” other experts are more skeptical.

Dr. Otis Brawley, former chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told Canadian radio Current that he was “very hesitant to give the promissory note” that the new research could lead to a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.

“Our history in oncology over the last 70 years is that we’ve literally had leaders in the profession say there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

But some remain hopeful. Kelly McNagny, a professor of medical genetics and biomedical engineering at the University of British Columbia, told the program that BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine is “actually very promising,” but cautioned that it is not a panacea for cancer.

“This is a treatment for cancer patients,” he said on the radio. “So it’s not a vaccine that you might think of getting a shot in the arm and you’d never see cancer.”

But McNagny said the technology will be “used to treat specific cancers, and that will start a wave. So that’s what I would say is a realistic expectation.”

BioNTech’s cancer mRNA trials have shown “encouraging early signals” but it may be “a few years” before we know whether the promised mRNA vaccine treatments “live up to the test”, reports the BBC.

“Every step, every patient we treat in our cancer trials helps us learn more about what we’re up against and how to fight it,” Ciurechi told Kuensberg.

“As scientists, we are always hesitant to say that we will have a cure for cancer. We have a number of breakthroughs and we will continue to work on them.”