World Cancer Day: Q&A with Dr. Michelle Brown, Vice President, INT Oncology
In honor of World Cancer Day, Dr. Michelle Brown, Vice President, INT Oncology, offers her perspective on the future of cancer care and the role of mRNA technology in advancing cancer research.
Where is the biggest opportunity to advance the fight against cancer?
Based on data from 2015-2017, nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes,¹ so there is vast potential to impact millions of lives around the globe with innovative treatments and approaches. With a disease as complex as cancer, there’s a need to explore multiple avenues to fit the needs of all patients.
For example, every person and every tumor is one-of-a-kind, arising from a unique set of evolving tumor mutations. With improved understanding of cancer biology and immunology, the industry has made great strides toward accounting for this uniqueness and tailoring treatment to the makeup of a patient’s cancer. We’re seeing this idea of individualization being taken to the next level in ongoing studies, opening new frontiers in cancer research that may potentially result in new treatment opportunities for patients.
Recent breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy have also demonstrated that powerful antitumor responses can be achieved by activating specific T cell responses in a variety of cancer settings.² By building on these learnings and pioneering a different way to fight cancer, we hope to be able to help many more patients.
What role could mRNA technology play in improving cancer care?
We believe the adaptability of mRNA technology can be leveraged to create an innovative and diverse portfolio of investigational cancer therapies, including individualized approaches to enable a tailored treatment for each patient. That’s why Moderna, in collaboration with Merck, is researching and developing an individualized neoantigen therapy (INT). Unique genetic mutations inside cancer cells result in pieces of protein that aren’t usually seen in normal cells, creating a cancer “fingerprint.”³ mRNA, as the body’s instruction-carrying molecule, can be used to help train the patient’s immune cells to recognize these cancer “fingerprints” and potentially launch an immune response against those cancer cells to help their own body fight back.⁴
While mRNA technology may provide an opportunity to tailor treatment to an individual patient, it may also be leveraged to address targets more widely expressed on many cancers, impact immunomodulation or immunosuppressive conditions, or help enable novel combinations. We’re exploring the potential of mRNA in the field of immuno-oncology in a variety of facets and cancer types, harnessing the body’s immune system to identify and kill cancer cells. We are optimistic about the potential of mRNA technology to represent a innovative approach that could potentially revolutionize cancer care and improve outcomes for patients.
What do you find most exciting about Moderna’s oncology program? What are you most proud of?
I’m excited by the momentum and learnings we continue to gain through clinical data, building our body of evidence and advancing the potential promise of an mRNA individualized neoantigen approach in helping to address unmet needs. Along with our partner Merck, Phase 3 trials continue to enroll in resected high-risk (stage III/IV) melanoma (NCT05933577) and completely resected stage II, IIA, or IIIB non-small cell lung cancer (NCT06077760). We also plan to rapidly expand our clinical studies to additional tumor types.
I’m also proud of both the medical and technological breakthroughs we’ve made when developing our INT. Creating one therapy for one patient comes with a host of intricacies and the need to create novel resources – from acquiring the necessary tissue, to neoantigen selection, to manufacturing, to coordinating with sites. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays an important role in streamlining these points to help us move with speed and precision. As we increase the number of patients we serve and the types of cancers we explore, AI will be critical to iterate on the science and tightly coordinating a wide scope of activities to help ensure we deliver every study participant’s INT dose on time.
This World Cancer Day, what is your message to cancer patients around the world?
My message to you is one of hope. The way cancer is treated is changing. At Moderna, we remain committed to doing whatever it takes to accelerate progress in the oncology space – we have bold ambitions, and we know this is just the beginning of our fight against cancer. As we continue to unleash the power of mRNA, we’ll work tirelessly to deliver transformative therapies to patients. I also want to express extreme gratitude to the trial participants, researchers, and staff who are vital to this progress.
At this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW), Moderna’s Kyle Holen, SVP, Head of Development for Therapeutics & Oncology, will sit down with Brad Ludden, Founder of First Descents, and Kris Carr, New York Times best-selling author and “cancer thriver,” to discuss how we can disrupt the cancer space by making it much more individualized to the patient. If you’ll be attending SXSW in Austin, TX this year, join us on March 10th at 10am CST.