Almost two years after the detection of the first cases of COVID-19, the whole planet is still dealing with the disease. However, in many places the waves that could have been tsunamis have hit much more weakly, thanks to the coronavirus vaccines. And some of these have been possible thanks to the management of the Messenger RNA (mRNA). This technology has emerged in the pandemic, but it had been under study for a long time, also for other purposes, such as HIV vaccines or the odd. cancer treatment.
And it is precisely one of them that is in the news today, after its developers have published their successful results with mice in Science Translational Medicine.
The treatment, called SAR441000 (BNT131) has already made the leap to humans, with the beginning of a clinical trial. We will have to wait to know their results, but they already have a preliminary one, which points to the absence of side effects. Now, what is this cancer treatment?
The importance of cytokines
It has been known for years that cytokines They can be a very useful weapon in the fight against cancer. They are small proteins, which act by regulating numerous functions of cells; like, for example, your communication.
If cytokines are administered directly, the body eliminates them quickly to avoid their toxicity.
It has been seen that there are some that collaborate with the cells of the immune system in their fight against cancer cells, hence they are considered a great antitumor. But they do have some downsides.
The most important is that they have a fairly short half-life. What does that mean? That if they are administered directly to a cancer patient, they will be quickly removed by the body. It is actually necessary, since if they accumulate they can be toxic. The problem is that, when using them as a cancer treatment, that requires having to maintain a constant dosage, to replace those that are removed. In the end, too high levels are reached and you reach that generalized toxicity that the body was trying to eliminate.
Therefore, another option that has been considered is the targeted administration. This means that cytokines are promoted to go only to the tumor whose cells they have to attack. Thus, toxicity in the rest of the body is avoided. For this, they have been used viral vectors, with signs that tell them where to go. But this is also a problem. On the one hand, because when inserted into DNA it can generate certain genetic errors. And, secondly, because it would promote a participation of the immune system that could be counterproductive.
Faced with all these obstacles on the way to a cancer treatment efficient, mRNA comes into play.
What does mRNA do?
The mRNA, as its name suggests, is the delivery courier which gives the cells’ protein factories, called ribosomes, the instructions for what to build. They have the pieces, which are the amino acids, but until the message reaches them they do not know how to place them.
By introducing mRNA into cancer cells, it acts like a Trojan horse
This is something that occurs naturally in cells. The DNA It is the complete instruction manual of our organism and, with it as a template, the mRNA is obtained. This, for example, tells ribosomes how to make insulin or collagen, when and where it is needed.
It is a natural process, yes, but it can also be promoted artificially. How? Externally giving cells the message for ribosomes to make the proteins that we want. In the case of coronavirus vaccines, for example, a protein present in SARS-CoV-2 is synthesized, so that the immune system reacts against it, as if an infection had been generated.
To obtain a cancer treatment, therefore, mRNA can be injected into tumor cells with the instructions for them to make the cytokines that will act against them. As if it were a Trojan horse.
A promising cancer treatment
The new mRNA-based cancer treatment has been developed Sanofi and BioNTech, known to be one of the two halves of the Pfizer vaccine.
In 17 of 20 mice complete regression of the tumor was obtained in 40 days
Contains the mRNA with instructions for making four cytokines with antitumor effects proven. The goal is to inject it directly into the tumor. Thus, effects outside it are avoided and a large amount of cytokines is obtained. in the right place, so that they exert their function before being eliminated by the organism.
So far it has been tested in 20 mice with melanoma and colon cancer. After injection, 17 of them developed enough cytokines to cause complete tumor regression in just 40 days. Even in those who had a second lung tumor, the cancer treatment migrated to it, also favoring its disappearance.
It is designed to be used alone, as monotherapy, or in conjunction with another Sanofi antitumor drug, the Libtayo. And that is precisely what they are going to study in the clinical trial with humans that has already begun, with the participation of 231 patients. It has not finished yet, but there is already preliminary data from 17 participants, in which no worrisome side effects have been reported.
Of course, drugs based on MRNA they have only just begun. It is clear that they still have a lot of good news to give us.