Moderna’s experimental cancer vaccine treats but doesn’t prevent melanoma – a biochemist explains how it works | Opinion
Source: Penn Live Patriot-News, April 2023
Media outlets have reported the encouraging findings of clinical trials for a new experimental vaccine developed by the biotech company Moderna to treat an aggressive type of skin cancer called melanoma.
Although this is potentially very good news, it occurred to me that the headlines may be unintentionally misleading. The vaccines most people are familiar with prevent disease, whereas this experimental new skin cancer vaccine treats only patients who are already sick. Why is it called a vaccine if it does not prevent cancer?
I am a biochemist and molecular biologist studying the roles that microbes play in health and disease. I also teach cancer genetics to medical students and am interested in how the public understands science. While preventive and therapeutic vaccines are administered for different health care goals, they both train the immune system to recognize and fight off a specific disease agent that causes illness.