We could soon have vaccines for cancer and HIV thanks to COVID-19 vaccine discovery: report

We could soon have vaccines for cancer and HIV thanks to COVID-19 vaccine discovery: report
Vials of undiluted Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to administer to staff and residents at a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30, 2020.Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
  • The COVID-19 vaccine uses first-of-its-kind mRNA technology to protect a person from infection.
  • Scientists are now applying that technology to other difficult-to-treat diseases like cancer and HIV.
  • Clinical trials are currently underway and have promising initial results.

Scientists are experimenting with COVID-19 vaccine technology as a way to treat terminal illnesses like cancer and HIV, Inverse reported.

That's because the coronavirus pandemic pushed scientists to create a first-of-its-kind vaccine using mRNA, or a small piece of a coronavirus particle's spike protein, to create an immune system response that protects from infection.

It's an approach vaccine researchers have been studying for the past 25 years, Insider previously reported.

Following effective clinical trial results and millions of successful vaccinations with mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, researchers now are looking into how the discovery could make way for other coveted treatments.

Scientists are gearing up to study mRNA for cancer and HIV treatment

Scientists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are preparing to study mRNA as a cancer treatment right now.


They believe mRNA could be used to prevent cancer recurrence, Dr. Van Morris, an oncologist heading the clinical trial, said in a recent article on the MD Anderson website.

The likelihood of cancer recurring varies based on the type of cancer, and is most common with ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, and glioblastoma. Recurrence happens when small amounts of cancer cells stay in the body after treatment, multiply, and in some cases move to other areas of the body.

In the trial, which is currently in its second phase, doctors test cancer patients who had tumors removed and went through chemotherapy. Once tests reveal cancer cells that are still circulating throughout their bodies, the researchers create individualized mRNA cocktails.

"We're hopeful that with the personalized vaccine, we're priming the immune system to go after the residual tumor cells, clear them out and cure the patient," said Morris.

Scientists at Scripps University in California are also looking at HIV, a sexually transmitted infection that affects 1.2 million people worldwide, as a candidate for an mRNA vaccine.


Similar to the way the COVID-19 vaccine attaches to spiky coronavirus proteins and kills them, the HIV vaccine could do the same with HIV particles, William Schief, an immunologist at Scripps Research who helped develop the HIV vaccine in a Phase 1 trial, said in a press release.

Now that Schief's team knows mRNA can be used to target and kill HIV, they'll use that technology in future studies in the hopes of soon creating an HIV vaccine.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine, researchers have also pivoted to diseases they anticipate will become greater threats in the coming years.

The Oxford University scientists who collaborated with AstraZeneca to develop their COVID-19 vaccine are now working on a vaccine to treat the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, Insider previously reported.