2023-10-17| R&D

Vaccine Development Has No Limits, the Application Direction of mRNA After the Nobel Prize

by Sinead Huang
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“For whatever you want to correct, or whatever you want to treat, there could be an mRNA medicine,” says Matthias Stephan, an immunologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the progress of mRNA vaccines, and notable figures such as the 2022 Tang Prize Laureate, Katalin Karikó, and Drew Weissman, have dedicated themselves to advancing mRNA vaccine development, stirring considerable interest in their potential nomination for the 2023 Nobel Prize in Biomedicine. This article delves into the diverse applications of mRNA technology and the transformative impact it has had on the field of medicine.

Related article: Moderna’s Cancer Vaccine to Enter Phase 3 Trials This Year

Why mRNA vaccines?

The spotlight is on mRNA vaccines due to their capacity to swiftly create highly effective vaccines, notably demonstrated in the case of COVID-19. This technology’s agility lies in its ability to synthesize mRNA within days, enabling rapid responses to evolving viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. Furthermore, mRNA technology serves as a versatile tool for prompt reactions to emerging infectious diseases. For instance, Moderna, a biotechnology firm located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has undertaken trials for mRNA vaccines targeting conditions such as monkeypox, Zika virus, and Nipah virus.

The Wide Range of Applications of mRNA

One potentially huge application area of ​​mRNA technology is targeting pathogens that are difficult for traditional pharmaceutical companies to conquer. One of them is cytomegalovirus (CMV), a virus that vaccine developers have been trying to find a solution for more than 50 years, causing birth defects in babies and potentially fatal infections in people with compromised immune systems. Sallie Permar, a pediatric infectious disease researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, points out that mRNA technology is key to solving this problem.

Cancer researchers have long sought a vaccine that could train the immune system to fight tumors, however, many promising vaccines have failed in clinical trials. Cancer has always been difficult to defeat because malignant cells mutate rapidly, making treatments less effective. Using mRNA technology, researchers can develop cancer vaccines that target dozens of antigens on tumor cells. Acting on multiple targets simultaneously may make it more difficult for tumor cells to evade the immune response triggered by the vaccine. Clinical trials are currently underway for a new class of personalized cancer vaccines that use mRNA to target a range of mutated proteins present in individual tumors.

Researchers are looking to improve the technology for certain situations where long-lasting mRNA molecules are needed. In some cases, however, the short-lived nature of mRNA can be an advantage. For example, with gene-editing tools like CRISPR-Cas9, researchers don’t want the DNA-cutting enzyme to stay inside the cell for too long, as it could lead to unintentional gene editing. mRNA represents a way of directing instructions for making enzymes into cells, then allowing them to disappear after completing their tasks.

Future RNA Development: circRNA

In the future, we can also look forward to more breakthroughs, among which circular RNAs (circRNAs) will play a key role. Links the two ends of an RNA transcript together, rendering many RNA-degrading enzymes unable to function. As a circular molecule, RNA could theoretically increase its therapeutic potential at low doses and improve its stability and persistence.

The widespread application of mRNA technology is reshaping the medical process. From vaccine development to treating traditional problems to gene editing, mRNA technology is creating a new era in the medical field. In the future, we can expect more innovations to bring changes to the healthcare field and provide more opportunities to save lives.

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