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The pharmaceutical company BioNTech has officially begun injecting participants with an experimental cancer vaccine in a new phase II clinical trial.

Preclinical and earlier clinical data showed that the vaccine is safe enough to progress along the clinical research pipeline, according to Clinical Trials Arena. So now, BioNTech plans to measure how well the vaccine, in concert with the medication Libtayo, works as a treatment for severe cases of skin cancer — and that's a big deal, because the hope is that it will be able to treat patients who would have previously been considered terminal.

Just like the COVID-19 vaccine that BioNTech developed in collaboration with Pfizer, the experimental cancer vaccine relies on mRNA technology to teach a patient's immune system how to fight off cancer. But there are some key differences between testing a vaccine for cancer and a highly-infectious virus.

Namely, it wouldn't make sense to test a vaccine on healthy patients and then wait around to see if they happen to eventually develop severe cancer. Rather, BioNTech is recruiting existing patients with stage three or four melanoma and then tracking their progress after they're inoculated.

"Our vision is to harness the power of the immune system against cancer and infectious diseases," BioNTech cofounder Özlem Türeci said in a press release. "We were able to demonstrate the potential of mRNA vaccines in addressing COVID-19. We must not forget, that cancer is also a global health threat, even worse than the current pandemic."

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