The world’s first therapeutic cancer vaccine was developed by a bone surgeon in the 1890s. Progress since then has been modest. But optimism is now running high thanks to a technology being developed by some front-runners in the Covid-19 vaccine race.

The aim would be cure more than prevention — evoking an immune response to fight off tumours already infecting patients. New cancer vaccines would be built using a synthetic form of messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid). These molecules carry genetic information needed to make proteins...

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