Moderna abandons midstage mRNA cancer asset in favor of similar triple-attack candidate

Moderna has ditched a phase 2 asset in development for solid tumors, lymphoma and ovarian cancer to instead focus on a similar therapy that could put up a triple attack.

The biotech, of COVID-19 vaccine fame, revealed in a second-quarter earnings release Thursday that the standalone OX40L candidate mRNA-2416 will be shelved in favor of mRNA-2752, which codes for OX40L as well as IL23 and IL36γ. OX40L is a ligand that regulates cytokine production from T cells as part of a large group of proteins, while IL23 and IL36γ are pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Both therapies are part of Moderna’s mRNA intratumoral immuno-oncology portfolio. These drugs are designed to treat cancer by transforming the tumor microenvironment to spur anticancer T-cell responses that attack the tumors. The therapies can be designed to be injected directly into the tumor to cause an attack on itself and linked tumors, meaning drugs that could otherwise be toxic to the patient can be delivered safely.

On Moderna's pipeline, mRNA-2752 has been listed as a phase 1 asset only for solid tumors and lymphoma. mRNA-2416, on the flip side, was the only cancer candidate specifically listed for ovarian cancer. 

RELATED: Moderna advancing early stage mRNA prospects to show depth beyond COVID-19 shot

In a letter to shareholders last year, CEO Stéphane Bancel touted the dosing of patients in a phase 2 expansion trial for mRNA-2416. At the time, Bancel said a phase 1 trial for the triplet therapy mRNA-2752 was ongoing, and no further update was provided in its earnings report.

In other Moderna news, enrollment has completed in a phase 1 study for a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine that the company hopes will be refrigerator-stable. This could help facilitate easier distribution and storage. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA COVID vaccines have extreme cold storage requirements, which has hampered roll-out in some areas of the world.

Studies of the original COVID-19 vaccine, which the company is hoping to call Spikevax, are underway in children aged 6 months to 11 years old.

A slight update was also offered on when a phase 3 study for the cytomegalovirus vaccine candidate mRNA-1647 will get underway. The biotech is now aiming to kick that off sometime this year.