RNA Cancer Vaccines: A Promising Tool in the Fight Against Cancer

The latest RNA cancer vaccines; Gardasil, Provenge and Moderna

RNfinity | 17-02-2023

Across the world, millions of individuals suffer from cancer. It is characterised by abnoramal cell division that can spread to other bodily regions and harm organs and tissues. For many years, traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery have been the go-to solutions for fighting cancer. These procedures can, however, be harmful to normal tissue and function and have adverse side effects. RNA cancer vaccines have become a potential weapon in the war against cancer in recent years. In this article, we will discuss how RNA cancer vaccines were developed and how they work, examples of RNA cancer vaccines, how effective they are, and future developments.

How RNA Cancer Vaccines were Developed and How They Work

RNA cancer vaccines were created using the same basic concepts as conventional vaccinations. Conventional vaccines stimulate the immune system to detect and neutralize a specific pathogen. Similar to traditional vaccinations, RNA cancer treatments target cancer cells rather than infections. These vaccines work by inducing an immunological response in the immune system, teaching it how to recognise and attack cancer cells.

Small bits of RNA with instructions to create particular proteins present in cancer cells are the basis of RNA cancer vaccines. Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) ingest the RNA after it has been introduced into the body, digest it, and then display the cancer cell proteins to T cells. T cells are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the immune system. When T cells recognize the cancer cell proteins, they become activated and start to attack the cancer cells.

Examples of RNA Cancer Vaccines

In recent years, a number of RNA cancer vaccines have been created. One example is the Gardasil vaccine, which is meant to prevent cervical cancer. The Gardasil vaccine targets the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can cause cervical cancer. Little RNA fragments that code for the HPV proteins make up the vaccination. Injecting the vaccine into the body prompts the immune system to identify and target the HPV proteins, thus shielding against the virus' ability to cause cervical cancer.

Another example of an RNA cancer vaccine is Provenge, which is used to treat advanced prostate cancer. The Provenge vaccination works by aggregating on a specific protein found in prostate cancer cells. The patient's own immune cells are taken out of the body, altered with the RNA vaccine, and then reinjected to form the vaccine. After T cells are activated to target the cancer cells by the transformed immune cells, the cancer is successfully treated.

The Moderna cancer vaccine is also an RNA cancer vaccine that has been in the news recently. Melanoma, lung cancer, and breast cancer are just a few of the cancers that the Moderna vaccine is intended to protect against. The vaccine works by encoding for specific proteins found in cancer cells. When the vaccine is injected into the body, it stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer cells, effectively preventing the cancer from developing.

How Effective are RNA Cancer Vaccines?

RNA cancer vaccines have shown promise in clinical trials, with some vaccines showing significant results in treating and preventing cancer. For instance, it has been demonstrated that the Provenge vaccination increases overall survival in individuals with advanced prostate cancer. In a clinical trial, patients who received the Provenge vaccine had a median survival of 4.1 months longer than those who received a placebo.

Similar evidence supports the great efficacy of the Gardasil vaccination in preventing cervical cancer. Up to 90% of cervical malignancies brought on by HPV have been demonstrated in clinical studies to be prevented by the vaccination.

The Moderna cancer vaccine is still in clinical trials, but early results have been promising. In the coming years, it is likely that RNA cancer vaccines will continue to be an important area of research and development, with the potential to provide effective and innovative therapies for many cancers.


Future Developments of RNA Cancer Vaccines

RNA cancer vaccines have showed promise in human trials, but much more study is required before they can be completely developed. RNA cancer vaccines can present a number of difficulties during production and storage, which may restrict their accessibility and efficacy. Researchers are presently developing new technologies and techniques to get around these challenges and increase the use and effectiveness of RNA cancer vaccines.

The following are some RNA cancer vaccines’ potential future developments:

Personalized Vaccines: As mentioned earlier, the Provenge vaccine is made up of the patient’s own immune cells, which are extracted, modified with the RNA vaccine, and then re-injected. This approach, known as personalized vaccines, allows for a more targeted and effective treatment of cancer. In the future, researchers may develop more personalized RNA cancer vaccines that are tailored to the specific characteristics of each patient’s cancer.

Improved Manufacturing: One of the challenges of RNA cancer vaccines is that they can be difficult and expensive to manufacture. Yet, new methods are being developed by academics to improve the manufacturing process’ efficiency and profitability. For example, some companies are using nanotechnology to encapsulate the RNA in tiny particles, which can improve its stability and make it easier to transport and store.

Combination Therapy: Another approach that researchers are exploring is combining RNA cancer vaccines with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This approach could help to increase the effectiveness of the vaccines and provide a more comprehensive treatment for cancer.


New Targets: While current RNA cancer vaccines target specific proteins found in cancer cells, researchers are also exploring new targets for these vaccines. For example, some researchers are developing RNA vaccines that target the immune system itself, with the goal of boosting the immune response to cancer cells.


New Applications: In addition to preventing and treating cancer, RNA vaccines may have other applications in the future. For example, researchers are exploring the use of RNA vaccines to treat infectious diseases, such as the flu and COVID-19. These vaccines work in a similar way to RNA cancer vaccines, by training the immune system to recognize and attack specific pathogens.



RNA cancer vaccines are a new and promising technique in the fight against cancer, providing a targeted and effective treatment without the harmful side effects of traditional cancer treatments. RNA cancer vaccines use small RNA fragments to teach the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells, and they have shown significant results in clinical trials. RNA cancer vaccines are being developed for a wide range of cancers, and future developments include personalized vaccines, improved manufacturing techniques, combination therapy, new targets, and new applications. While RNA cancer vaccines present certain challenges, such as the difficulty and expense of manufacturing, researchers are developing new technologies and techniques to improve their efficacy and accessibility. Overall, RNA cancer vaccines represent an exciting area of research and development that may provide new and innovative treatments for cancer patients in the coming years.

RNA cancer vaccines have the potential to be an effective strategy for treating many cancers. While they are still in the early stages of development, RNA cancer vaccines have shown promise in clinical trials and researchers are actively working on improving their effectiveness and accessibility. In the future, we may see more personalized vaccines, improved manufacturing techniques, combination therapies, new targets, and new applications for RNA vaccines. These developments could help to transform the way we prevent and treat cancer, offering new hope for patients and their families.



Sahin U, Karikó K, Türeci Ö. mRNA-based therapeutics--developing a new class of drugs. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2014;13(10):759-780. doi:10.1038/nrd4278

Bhardwaj V, Nanduri S, Khanna N. Tumor-associated antigens and their significance in the development of immunotherapeutic approaches for cancer. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2015;11(3):733-748. doi:10.1080/21645515.2015.1016690

Lesterhuis WJ, Haanen JB, Punt CJ. Cancer immunotherapy--revisited. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2011;10(8):591-600. doi:10.1038/nrd3500

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA approves new treatment for a certain type of prostate cancer using novel clinical trial endpoint. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-treatment-certain-type-prostate-cancer-using-novel-clinical-trial-endpoint. Published July 29, 2019. Accessed February 17, 2023.

Moderna. Moderna's mRNA technology. https://www.modernatx.com/mrna-technology/mrna-platform-enabling-drug-discovery-development. Accessed February 17, 2023.

Harper DM, Franco EL, Wheeler C, et al. Efficacy of a bivalent L1 virus-like particle vaccine in prevention of infection with human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 in young women: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2004;364(9447):1757-1765. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17398-4

Kantoff PW, Higano CS, Shore ND, et al. Sipuleucel-T immunotherapy for castration-resistant prostate cancer. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(5):411-422. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1001294

Pardi N, Hogan MJ, Naradikian MS, Parkhouse K, Cain DW, Jones L, Moody MA, Verkerke HP, Myles A, Willis E, LaBranche CC, Montefiori DC, Lobby JL, Saunders KO, Liao HX, Korber BT, Sutherland LL, Scearce RM, Hraber P, Tombácz I, Muramatsu H, Ni H, Balikov DA, Li C, Mui BL, Tam YK, Krammer F, Karikó K, Pollet J, Crotty S, Eisenlohr LC, Madden TD, Hope MJ, Lewis MG, Lee KK, Hu H, Hensley SE, Cancro MP, Haynes BF, Weissman D. Nucleoside-modified mRNA vaccines induce potent T follicular helper and germinal center B cell responses. J Exp Med. 2018;215(6):1571-1588. doi:10.1084/jem.20171450

Rizvi NA, Hellmann MD, Snyder A, et al. Cancer immunology. Mutational landscape determines sensitivity to PD-1 blockade in non-small cell lung cancer. Science. 2015;348(6230):124-128. doi:10.1126/science