Individualized neoantigen therapies: exploring one medicine for one patient

Scientists are researching new ways to help train the immune system to fight cancer

April 13, 2023

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Merck's Dr. Jane Healy
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Over the past decade, immunotherapy has transformed our understanding of how the immune system can be used to help fight some types of cancer. However, for the last 50 years, scientists have been researching how we could potentially use vaccines to treat cancer — another investigational approach to harness the immune system to help recognize and destroy cancer cells — with little success.

Now we’re looking at a potential therapy that is building upon the learnings of immunotherapy trials from the past and incorporating that into an individualized cancer approach that’s specific to a patient’s own tumor. Researchers are currently exploring the potential of individualized neoantigen therapies to help fight cancer.

Cancer research is becoming more personalized

Cancer is a result of the body’s own cells undergoing mutations which create abnormal proteins in cancer cells, known as neoantigens, that are not usually seen in normal cells. These mutations are unique to each person’s tumor, so that’s one of the reasons why patients who have been diagnosed with the same type of cancer and who have received the same type of treatment may have different responses.

As the treatment of cancer continues to evolve and advance, researchers are focusing on more individualized approaches. This includes a new area of research into individualized neoantigen therapies that use information from a person’s tumor biopsy sample to help develop a therapy unique to their tumor’s mutations.

Merck's Dr. Jane Healy

“This area of research has really captured our imagination of what’s possible in the development of cancer therapeutics.”

  • Dr. Jane Healy
    Vice president and head of oncology early development at Merck Research Laboratories

In collaboration with Moderna, we’re studying this area of research in an effort to advance more individualized approaches to help improve outcomes for people living with cancer.

Learn more about individualized neoantigen therapies