mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, continues to make headlines as the key ingredient of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. This is the first time this vaccine technology has been approved for widespread use, but it’s by no means a new invention. Years of research into mRNA around the world culminated in an effective COVID vaccine.
mRNA holds vast potential as a pharmaceutical tool because of its natural function within the body. Its job is to tell your cells what proteins to make. The COVID mRNA vaccines work by telling your cells to create the proteins found in the virus, which then trigger the production of antibodies. In theory, modified mRNA could instruct your cells to create any protein. Of course, no pharmaceutical breakthrough happens overnight. Many researchers contributed decades of work to uncover the best ways to modify the mRNA and deliver it to the cells it communicates with. Perhaps the most essential tangential innovation was housing the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles in order to protect the “message” from natural degradation within the body.
The scientific community has proven the commercial potential of mRNA vaccines. Next, scientists are turning their attention to mRNA’s potential against other respiratory illnesses, cancer, and more.
One of the benefits of mRNA vaccines over traditional vaccines is how quickly they can be produced. This is especially true for flus and other respiratory illnesses, which are caused by viruses that mutate rapidly. Traditional flu vaccines may be only 40 to 60% effective when widely administered due to the quickly-changing virus. mRNA vaccines hold an obvious advantage, especially in pandemic or epidemic situations.
Cancer impacts every individual differently, yet there are few ways to personalize cancer treatments. Because mRNA is modified based on a genomic sequence, mRNA cancer vaccines could be tailored to individuals’ cancer cells. This mRNA, once injected, would teach the body to attack these specific cells. While BioNTech brought the first COVID vaccine to market, cancer vaccines have been its core work over the last decade. Its pipeline includes therapies for prostate, ovarian, and skin cancers, as well as others.
Other innovations in the space include vaccines for the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of illnesses and disorders. CureVac is currently working on an mRNA vaccine for rabies. Moderna, now well-known for its COVID vaccine, is working on an HIV vaccine. With its acquisition of Translate Bio, Sanofi is currently working on mRNA treatment for cystic fibrosis.
The potential of mRNA is truly impressive!