A new vaccine, Arexvy, is approved for use in individuals 60 and older to prevent RSV, which causes lower respiratory tract disease.
Several Lyme disease vaccines are currently in development, although none have been approved yet. This is especially key as climate change increases the number of ticks.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center researchers are developing a personalized mRNA cancer treatment vaccine approach designed to help immune cells recognize specific neoantigens in patients’ pancreatic cancer cells.
The groundbreaking rollout of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine in 2020 reinforced the importance of vaccine availability. Today, a series of new vaccine developments could save even more lives.
The newly approved RSV vaccine
Among the new vaccines taking the stage is Arexvy, the first vaccine approved for use against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the United States. A May 3 press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that the vaccine would be available to individuals 60 and older to prevent RSV, a common cause of lower respiratory tract disease.
RSV is common and can cause symptoms that look like a mild cold in most people. However, it can affect certain patients more seriously. “Older adults, in particular those with underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease or weakened immune systems, are at high risk for severe disease caused by RSV,” Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the press release.
“Today’s approval of the first RSV vaccine is an important public health achievement to prevent a disease which can be life-threatening and reflects the FDA’s continued commitment to facilitating the development of safe and effective vaccines for use in the United States,” Marks continued.
Janice Johnston, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of Redirect Health, says that the RSV vaccine has the potential to save thousands of lives—particularly in older patients and babies (although Arexvy is not approved for babies).
“The vaccine's main objective would be to prevent severe RSV infections, which can cause respiratory illnesses ranging from common cold symptoms to more severe conditions like bronchiolitis or pneumonia,” Johnston says, adding that the vaccine will not only help families protect their most vulnerable but also reduce the risk of potential hospitalizations and associated healthcare costs.
For patients wondering whether RSV is effective, the New England Journal of Medicine found that the vaccine’s efficacy against RSV-related lower respiratory tract disease was 82.6%. Vaccine efficacy was 94.1% against severe RSV-related lower respiratory tract disease.
Physicians should know that patients who receive Arexvy may experience side effects. In the clinical trial, people reported pain at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and joint stiffness and pain.
Researchers are also working on a maternal RSV vaccine. Still, experts are requesting further analysis of its trial results, with a decision around the next steps expected in August 2023, according to BMJ.
A potential pancreatic cancer vaccine approach
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) are also developing a “personalized mRNA cancer-treatment vaccine approach…designed to help immune cells recognize specific neoantigens on patients’ pancreatic cancer cells,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This vaccine, if approved, would be used in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most prevalent type of pancreatic cancer. According to the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, PDAC sees less than 10% of patients survive an average of five years, as most people with PDAC “have unresectable, locally advanced, or metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis.”
Immunotherapies may work for other tumors but haven’t been effective against PDAC. However, with this customized vaccine approach, researchers “performed gene sequencing on the tumors to find proteins that might trigger an immune response. They then used that information to create a personalized mRNA vaccine for each patient. Each vaccine targeted up to 20 neoantigens,” according to the NIH.
In a small clinical trial published in Nature, these custom vaccines were given to some participants. The vaccines stimulated the production of T-cells that could recognize pancreatic cancer in each patient. After a year and a half, the cancer had not recurred in those participants with a strong T-cell response to the vaccine. However, not every participant responded similarly to their personalized vaccines.
“If deemed successful and safe, this pancreatic cancer vaccine could have a transformative effect on healthcare by offering a preventive approach to combat this aggressive and often challenging-to-treat cancer, potentially reducing its incidence and associated morbidity and mortality,” Johnston says. Currently, there is no available date, as the research team is planning a larger clinical trial to test the vaccine.
Several Lyme vaccines are in development
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that an estimated 476,000 people in the U.S. could get Lyme disease—which, if not treated, could attack the joints, the heart, and the nervous system—each year. And with climate change wreaking havoc on the planet, hotter temperatures could breed a rise in ticks, which carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease—making the need for a Lyme vaccine more necessary than ever.
Soon, physicians may be able to help patients at risk for Lyme disease. According to the Association of Medical Colleges, several researchers are developing Lyme vaccines that can accomplish what the LYMErix Lyme disease vaccine—approved in 1998 and later pulled from the market—did not. Among them is VLA15, which is currently in phase 3 of development.
If approved, this vaccine would promote the development of antibodies in patients with tick bacterium from the North American and European strains of Lyme disease. According to Clinical Trials Arena, “VLA-15’s promising clinical data indicate that it is likely to be the first Lyme disease vaccine to reach the market since the withdrawal of Lymerix.” This vaccine would be administered intramuscularly if approved.
Additionally, there are other Lyme disease vaccines being developed, including two mRNA vaccine candidates by Moderna: mRNA-1982 and mRNA-1975. “[This] new vaccine would be effective from its mRNA technology to bacterial pathogens to elicit antibodies,” Johnston says. “Its primary goal would be to prevent Lyme disease infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is passed through tick bites. The new vaccine could offer protection to at-risk individuals and potentially reduce the burden on healthcare systems by decreasing the number of cases requiring treatment.”