Shares of Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) jumped 9.7% on Thursday after the company published preclinical data in Science Translational Medicine showing that three mRNAs, which are combined into its mRNA-2752 therapy, can make so-called "cold" tumors immunologically active.
mRNA-2752 contains mRNAs to express IL23 and IL36-gama, a pair of cytokines that cells secrete to stimulate immune cells, as well as OX40L, which sits on the outside of cells and stimulates T cells to attack.
Immuno-oncology checkpoint inhibitors, such as anti-PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies or anti-CTLA-4 antibodies, work well to remove the signals that tumor cells use to block immune cells from attacking. But the drugs don't work for "cold" tumors that lack signals to attract the immune cells in the first place. Essentially, the checkpoint inhibitors are like removing the brake of a car, but some tumors also need a little gas added to get the immune system car headed in the right direction.
In a mouse model of cancer, treatment with the combination of mRNA-2752 and a checkpoint inhibitor resulted in no detectable cancer in a larger fraction of animals compared to the group of animals that got either of the treatments alone.
Curing mice of cancer is great, but mRNA-2752 will only be able to generate substantial revenue if it can help humans.
Fortunately, investors won't have to wait long to see whether mRNA-2752 works since the drug is already in a phase 1 study testing it in combination with either AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) durvalumab (an anti-PD-L1 antibody) or tremelimumab (an anti-CTLA-4 antibody). The trial is scheduled to be completed next year, but since it's a phase 1 study, Moderna may present interim data, perhaps at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Conference in June.