Merck and Moderna Collaborate to Develop Personalized Cancer Therapy Vaccines


Merck (MSD) and Moderna Therapeutics collaborated to develop a personalized cancer vaccine with the combination of Merck’s KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab) and Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology.

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Years of Merck’s established leadership in immune-oncology with Moderna’s pioneering-RNA vaccine technology and GMP manufacturing capabilities will be utilized to develop custom- made vaccines for treating various types of cancer.

The designed personalized cancer vaccines utilize Moderna’s vaccine technology to encode particular neoantigens, unique mutations specific to the patient’s tumor. The vaccine will recognize the cancer cells in patients and will initiate specific immune response to destroy the cancer cells.

The companies are presuming that the vaccine also have the potential to synergistically act with the checkpoint inhibitor cancer therapy like KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), Merck’s anti PD-1 therapy. The added feature about the vaccination is it rapid cycle time, small batch manufacturing technique which will be able to provide tailor- made vaccines to patients within a very short span of time (mostly within weeks).

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Merck following the agreement will pay $200 million of upfront payment, which will be utilized by Moderna for the research and development program of the vaccine. Moderna will utilize the money to conduct several experiments in various type of cancer with the mRNA based vaccination in combination with KEYTRUDA. Also a part of the money will be utilized in building a GMP manufacturing facility in suburban Boston for the manufacturing of the personalized cancer vaccines.

The collaboration comes with a number of stipulations. The future of this collaboration depends upon the human proof after which Merck has the right to pay an undisclosed amount to Moderna for further research. On successful completion and launch of the product, the profit and the cost incurred will be equally shared by both the companies as per the worldwide collaboration for personalized vaccine development.


Moderna will also have the right to co-promote the product in US. The agreement was also signed under exclusivity rights that the vaccine can only be combined with KEYTRUDA and vice- versa. Though, both the companies can combine the personalized cancer vaccine with other non-PD1 agents.

Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories said, “Combining immunotherapy with vaccine technology may be a new path toward improving outcomes for patients. While the area of personalized cancer vaccine research has faced challenges in the past, there have been many recent advances, and we believe that working with Moderna to combine an immuno-oncology approach, using KEYTRUDA, with mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines may have the potential to transform the treatment of cancer.”

Moderna definitely achieved a lot in a very short time and this collaboration has raised the hope to enter the clinic in 2017. Rapid production of the personalized vaccines by GMP manufacturing capacities can help in achieving this target.

Merck’s Research program in innovative oncology medicines have been one of the fastest growing research programs. KEYTRUDA alone has definitely been a success to detect and fight tumor cells. With KEYTRUDA’s anti-PD therapy, 300 clinical trials are going on to study 30 tumor types. Moderna is a clinical stage pioneer of messenger RNA Therapeutics. A lot is at stake for Moderna Therapeutics, definitely more than Merck.

Featured image credit: Unity is strength. © R_Tavani (Stock Photo ID: 85942217)

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