A man from Stevenage is one of the first patients in the world trialling a new "personalised" mRNA vaccine against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Steve Young, 52, had a "bump on the head" - which he thinks he had for around a decade - which turned out be melanoma.

He had the growth cut out of his scalp last August and has now had a jab which is designed to trigger the immune system so it can fight back against the patient’s specific type of cancer and tumour.

Hopefully, it means that his cancer will not return.

Steve said that it was a "massive shock" to be diagnosed.

“I literally spent two weeks just thinking ‘this is it’.

The Comet: Steve said that the new vaccine triggered his geek radar.Steve said that the new vaccine triggered his geek radar. (Image: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

“My dad died of emphysema when he was 57 and I actually thought ‘I’m going to die younger than my dad’.”

Mr Young said when he was told about the trial at UCLH it “really triggered my geek radar”.

He continued: “It really piqued my interest. As soon as they mentioned this mRNA technology that was being used to potentially fight cancer, I was just like, ‘it sounds fascinating’ and I still feel the same. I’m really, really excited.

The Comet: Steve during a consultation with Dr Heather Shaw, with an MRI scan of his brain on the screen.Steve during a consultation with Dr Heather Shaw, with an MRI scan of his brain on the screen. (Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

“This is my best chance at stopping the cancer in its tracks.”

The “gamechanger” jab, which offers hope of a cure and also has the potential to stop lung, bladder and kidney cancer, is custom-built for each person in just a few weeks.

A stage two trial of the jab, involving pharma firms Moderna and MSD, found it dramatically reduced the risk of the cancer returning in melanoma patients.

Trials, led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH), are now in the final phase.

Dr Heather Shaw, national co-ordinating investigator for the trial, said the jab had the potential to cure people with melanoma and is being tested in other cancers.

She said: “This is one of the most exciting things we’ve seen in a really long time.

“This is a really finely honed tool. To be able to sit there and say to your patients that you’re offering them something that’s effectively like the Fat Duck at Bray versus McDonald’s – it’s that level of cordon bleu that’s coming to them.


“These things are hugely technical and finely generated for the patient. The patients are really excited about them.”

In order to create the jab, a sample of tumour is removed during the patient’s surgery, followed by DNA sequencing and the use of artificial intelligence.

Dr Shaw said: “This is very much an individualised therapy and it’s far cleverer in some senses than a vaccine.

“It is absolutely custom built for the patient – you couldn’t give this to the next patient in the line because you wouldn’t expect it to work.

The Comet: Dr Heather Shaw is national co-ordinating investigator for the trial.Dr Heather Shaw is national co-ordinating investigator for the trial. (Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

“They may have some shared new antigens, but they’re likely to have their own very individual new antigens that are important to their tumour and so, therefore, it is truly personalised.”

The ultimate aim is to cure patients of their cancer, Dr Shaw said.

“Absolutely, that’s the drive. With (this) therapy, what you’re doing is dealing with the theoretical risk that the cancer could recur.

“So there’s nothing to see on scans, but if there are some cells that have escaped that are below the detection of imaging… what we’re trying to do is, on a patient-by-patient basis, give treatment to eradicate any of those rogue cells that might be sitting about.

“What we’re trying to do is to push more patients into that recurrence-free survival bucket, which should translate into overall survival benefit and a non-recurrence of those patients over time, which equals cure.”

Date from phase two of trials found that people with serious high-risk melanomas who received the jab alongside MSD’s immunotherapy Keytruda were almost half (49 per cent) as likely to die or have their cancer come back after three years than those who were given only Keytruda.

Patients received one milligram of the mRNA vaccine every three weeks for a maximum of nine doses, and 200 milligrams of Keytruda every three weeks (maximum 18 doses) for about a year.

The phase three global trial will now include a wider range of patients, and hopes to recruit around 1,100 people, with around 60 to 70 of these being in the UK.

Dr Shaw continued: “I think there is a real hope that these will be the gamechangers in immunotherapy.

“We’ve looked for a long time for something that would be additive to the immunotherapies that we already have – that we know can be life-changing for patients – but with something that’s got a really acceptable side-effect profile.

“And these therapies look as if they may offer that promise.”

Dr Shaw said side effects include tiredness and a sore arm where the jab was given.

“So it appears to be relatively tolerable and actually no worse than having a flu vaccine or a Covid jab for the majority of patients,” she concluded.