Skin cancer vaccine trial promising, Merck and Moderna say

Shares of Merck and Moderna rose early Tuesday after the drugmakers said they were developing a potential skin cancer vaccine that uses the same technology as a COVID-19 preventive shot and performed well in mid-stage studies.

Combination of vaccines, drugmaker says Merck’s immunotherapy Keytruda led to a statistically significant improvement in recurrence-free survival for patients with stage III or IV melanoma who had their tumors removed during surgery.

The combination was compared to Keytruda alone in a mid-stage clinical trial of 157 patients.

The group of patients who took the potential vaccine along with Keytruda had a 44 percent lower risk of death or cancer recurrence, the companies said.

Merck and Moderna expect to start a Phase 3 study of the combination next year. This is usually the last and largest clinical study before a drug is submitted for regulatory approval.

This potential vaccine aims to train the patient’s immune system to recognize tumor mutations and respond specifically. Merck’s top-selling drug Keytruda triggers the body’s immune system to detect and fight tumor cells.

Shares of Moderna rose more than 8% in premarket trading, Merck rose more than 2%, and futures edged higher.

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