Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine

The world is obsessed with vaccines. Well, in truth, it’s those vaccines that will hopefully set us free from COVID and allow us to return to something close to call normal life.

The link between fighting COVID and cancer

At the time of writing, at least 150 million vaccine doses have been administered in the US, and I have received both my Pfizer shots. The Pfizer vaccine was developed in conjunction with the German company BioNTech. BioNTech, a relatively small firm, needed the muscle of pharma giant Pfizer to help run large clinical trials and scale up mass production to meet global demand.

Prior to turning their attention to coronavirus, BioNTech had been working on finding ways to help the immune system tackle cancer. Following the success of their COVID vaccine, the value and profile of the company has grown, increasing its potential ability to have access to resources that will help in their continuing fight against cancer.

Exploring the connection

Interestingly, there is direct cross-over in the research required to beat coronavirus and cancer. In many instances, both use mRNA-based vaccines that enable the immune system to attack a predatory intruder.

Ozlem Tureci, BioNTech’s co-founder, told the Associated Press in March that “we have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” and predicted that "within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines [against] cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

Other research underway

It’s not just in Germany that this type of cancer vaccine research is underway. Similar work is happening in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Helen McCarthy and her team at Queen’s University, Belfast have been developing a vaccine to help treat prostate cancer. As with all research, it’s slow, painstaking work, but the results are interesting.

A prostate cancer shot could be used to treat patients in advanced stages of the disease who lack other treatment options.2

The vaccine works partly by having the effect of triggering the body’s immune system, which then attacks the prostate cancer. Dr. McCarthy’s team are also looking at a new way to deliver the vaccine. Rather than using a traditional needle, they are exploring using a patch to deliver the dose. They hope this will enhance the immune response.1

Don't give up hope

If you look at social media pages that deal with prostate cancer, it’s not uncommon to find those patients whose cancer has returned. Their initial treatment and interventions looked to be successful, but cancer has a way of making a most unwelcome reappearance. Some say this is as bad or worse than the initial diagnosis, because now there seems little chance of a cure.

This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m fully aware that it may. I never say I’m cancer-free, perhaps because that seems too much like tempting fate. Cancer doesn’t give up easily, but luckily for us neither do the scientists.

Whether the work being done by BioNTech in Germany or by Dr. McCarthy in Belfast will come in time to help those whose cancer has recently returned, it’s impossible to say. But prostate cancer is now one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the world, and there are major new treatments and screening processes in the works. If you are unlucky enough to have prostate cancer, don’t give up hope; the scientific cavalry is coming.

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