HealthDay News — Moderna and Merck said they have made notable progress with a vaccine that could prevent melanoma. Moderna, well known for its work on the COVID-19 vaccine, and Merck, which makes the cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab), announced that the combination performed well in a small study of patients who had melanoma surgically removed.

“Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a company news release. “We will begin additional studies in melanoma and other forms of cancer with the goal of bringing truly individualized cancer treatments to patients.”

Study participants experienced a statistically significant improvement in survival with a combination of the vaccine and pembrolizumab before cancer returned in patients who had advanced melanoma.

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“These positive findings represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Moderna,” said Dean Li, MD, president of Merck Research Laboratories. “Over the last 6 years, our teams have worked closely together combining our respective expertise in mRNA and immuno-oncology with a focus on improving outcomes for patients with cancer.”

Researchers compared the combination of the vaccine and pembrolizumab to pembrolizumab alone in a midstage clinical trial that included 157 patients. Those who received the vaccine-pembrolizumab combination had a 44% reduction in the risk for death or cancer returning when compared with pembrolizumab alone. Researchers administered the treatments for approximately 1 year in both groups, with exceptions made for severe side effects or disease return.

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