Beyond COVID: mRNA Opening The Door To A Range Of Possible Therapeutics
In the simplest possible way, mRNA is a type of genetic material that gives cells instructions to make specific proteins. But the term wasn’t always this popular as it is now worldwide.
Scores of people became familiar with mRNA technology when Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID vaccines were rolled out. The entities undoubtedly shifted the course of the pandemic.
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman from the University of Pennsylvania for their discoveries in mRNA biology.
mRNA Opening Up New Possibilities
Beyond COVID vaccines, the two scientists’ discoveries have also opened the door to a range of possible therapeutics which, until recently, had been difficult to track down.
Their efforts have opened up new possibilities for how we treat common infectious diseases as well as genetic conditions that have previously rejected treatment.
Nonetheless, therapeutics based on mRNA technology are still in their infancy. Scientists are working on filling up caveats and a few methods have shown promise.
For A Universal Influenza Vaccine
Influenza claims up to 650,000 lives each year. At the moment, seasonal vaccines must be manufactured annually once the main circulating strain has been identified.
Manufacturers take about half a year, by which time the original flu strain may have undergone evolution. At best the seasonal vaccine is 60% effective against the flu.
mRNA technology offers the potential of a universal influenza vaccine. If successful, the candidates undergoing trials could replace the current seasonal shots.
Addressing Cancer And Genetic Diseases
There’s more. Targeting cancer is another promising avenue for mRNA technology, with mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies already at the trial stage.
The genetic material is also transforming our response to some genetic diseases, including hereditary angioedema where patients suffer attacks of swelling in their organs and tissues.
Overall, however, mRNA is short-lived in cells. Increasing the lifespan of mRNA in cells could reduce the dosage of mRNA necessary. Scientists are working on this.