Onkaido is a Moderna venture focused exclusively on harnessing the promise of mRNA science to deliver novel therapies for patients with cancer. The Onkaido team is currently applying Moderna’s mRNA technology to the emerging and highly promising field of immuno-oncology, also often referred to as immunotherapy. This therapeutic area involves harnessing the body’s immune system to identify and kill cancer cells in the same way the immune system identifies and targets infection from pathogens.
While the field of immuno-oncology has yielded novel treatments that have helped many patients, unfortunately not all patients respond to treatment with currently approved immunotherapies, known as checkpoint inhibitors.
The cancer immunity cycle is highly complex; and we believe there are several points in this cycle where we may be able to intervene with mRNA intratumoral immunotherapies and, in combination with checkpoint inhibitors, more effectively unleash the immune system to target and kill cancer cells.
Potential Advantages of Our mRNA-Based Immunotherapies
As a platform for creating immunotherapies, mRNA offers several potential advantages. mRNA makes proteins. The majority of the interactions between cancer cells and the immune system are regulated by proteins; either proteins that are secreted or those that remain on the surface of cells. As such, many components of immune-based treatment of cancer potentially can be impacted by mRNA. Because of the ability to get inside cells to direct protein expression, mRNA affords the opportunity to go after targets not previously druggable. In addition, mRNA can be leveraged to develop combinations of therapies, which may be an important key for overcoming treatment resistance for certain patients and delivering a powerful treatment punch to cancer. Finally, the use of mRNA immunotherapies permits a focused and powerful yet transient response, which may permit a highly regulatable and directed effect, mitigating unwanted systemic toxicity in a way similar to conventional drugs.
The Onkaido team continues to make key progress, with two mRNA intratumoral immunotherapy development candidates already nominated and advancing toward the clinic.
“The need for safe and effective cancer treatments remains extremely high for many types of cancer. Immunotherapy as an area of cancer treatment holds tremendous promise. In recent years, we’ve seen the benefit these therapies can yield for some patients. What we’re really striving to do is harness and direct the potential of mRNA immunotherapies to hopefully enable a larger subset of patients to achieve those same treatment benefits.”
- Stephen Kelsey, M.D. President, Onkaido