Moderna‘s (MRNA) Merck (MRK)-partnered cancer vaccine reduced the risk of relapse or death by 49% in melanoma patients, the companies said Thursday. The update fueled big gains for Moderna stock, which has been hamstrung recently on Covid news.
The companies followed patients who received a combination of the cancer vaccine and Merck’s drug Keytruda three years ago. Patients had their melanoma surgically removed. They then received the cancer vaccine in hopes of preventing their cancer from returning.
After about three years, patients given the combination were 49% less likely to relapse or die than those who received Keytruda, alone. Further, they had a 62% lower risk their cancer would spread or they would die than the Keytruda group.
The results are an improvement over a December 2022 update in which the cancer vaccine group was 44% less likely to relapse or die than the Keytruda recipients. Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel confirmed the cancer vaccine could win an accelerated approval in 2025, RBC Capital Markets analyst Luca Issi said in a report.
“We think this data reiterates a signal that can be transformational for patients if replicated in larger (studies),” he said. He has an outperform rating and 125 price target on Moderna stock.
In afternoon trading on the stock market today, Moderna stock surged 10.4% to 86.76. On Wednesday, Moderna stock edged higher after initially tumbling as Covid vaccine rival Pfizer (PFE) issued light guidance for 2024, largely due to faltering sales of its Covid products.
Merck stock sank a fraction after the open, though it rose 2.6% on Wednesday.
Moderna Stock: Renewed Cancer Vaccine Focus
The cancer vaccine could give Moderna and Merck an important boost.
Currently, Moderna’s only commercialized drug is its Covid vaccine. But sales have been sluggish. Moderna is working to shore up its pipeline and return to its early focus on cancer. And the patents protecting Merck’s Keytruda are expected to expire later this decade.
Importantly, the side effects of the cancer vaccine and Keytruda combination are in line with what researchers have seen in earlier testing. Roughly a quarter of patients given the combo had serious side effects vs. a fifth of the Keytruda group.
Promisingly for Moderna stock, the most common side effects were fatigue, injection site pain and chills.
Moderna and Merck are already working on a Phase 3 study. But these are long-running studies with final results from the ongoing Phase 2 study not expected until 2029, according to ClinicalTrials.gov. Though the company could snap up an accelerated approval, RBC’s Issi said.
Meanwhile, Moderna stock has been in a two-year decline, reflecting unease among biotech stocks broadly.
Follow Allison Gatlin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, at @IBD_AGatlin.
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