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Caperna is focused exclusively on the advancement of mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines, applying Moderna’s mRNA vaccine and manufacturing technologies to the field of cancer vaccines, and building on advances in recent years in the field of immuno-oncology.

Modern and Merck are collaborating to develop and commercialize these novel personalized cancer vaccines, which have the potential to improve the ability of an individual patient’s immune system to recognize cancer cells as pathogenic and mount a stronger, more tailored response that improves patient outcomes. The approach involves identifying unique neoantigens (newly-formed antigens derived from proteins encoded by mutated genes in the tumor) present in each patient’s tumor, and then designing and creating a personalized vaccine encoding for at least 20 such neoantigens. Studies in the past few years have suggested a key role for neoantigens in cancer immunotherapy.

When injected into the body, the mRNA will instruct cells to produce and express these neoantigens intracellularly; they will then be presented naturally to the immune system. In turn, this may help each patient’s immune system better recognize and kill cancer cells. 

Moderna and Merck believe that mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines’ ability to specifically activate an individual patient’s immune system has the potential to be synergistic with checkpoint inhibitor therapies, including Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy, KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab).

Rapid Cycle Time, Small-Batch Manufacturing and Digital Infrastructure

Moderna’s demonstrated engineering and process capability enables the synthesis of more than 1,000 unique mRNAs per month via our automated, in-house productions systems. By leveraging this rapid cycle time, small-batch manufacturing technique and Moderna’s digital infrastructure, we believe we will be able to manufacture and supply cancer vaccines tailored to an individual patient’s cancer within weeks.

“Each patient’s cancer is different, so it is logical to customize cancer therapy for each patient. It’s been shown that patients who are most responsive to immunotherapies, like KEYTRUDA, are those who have tumors expressing higher numbers of neoantigens. Our mRNA technology and digital infrastructure will enable us to rapidly manufacture cancer vaccines encoding for neoantigens unique to each patient’s cancer, which may improve the ability of their immune system to do its job. The ultimate goal is improved outcomes for patients.”

-Ted Ashburn, M.D., Ph.D., Head of Operations, Caperna.