Despite the severity of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, few would disagree that the vaccine rollout, unprecedented in both scope and scale, was a pivotal turning point for the world of medicine, preventing countless additional casualties. The health benefits of vaccines were proven yet again, along with their economic and social utility, as mass immunization was critical to avert complete disaster and mitigate the severity of rising infections world-wide.
Also unprecedented was the speed at which COVID vaccines were developed, tested, and mass produced to face this challenge. In many ways, new medical developments and decades of research on mRNA vaccine technology came together at the perfect time.
Traditional vaccines cost billions of dollars to develop, are difficult to produce, and can take anywhere from 10-20 years before sufficient testing is complete and they are pronounced safe for the general population. Faced with the possibility of a world-wide pandemic, the scientific and medical community had no time to waste in 2020, and one key piece of technology that helped develop a Covid-19 vaccine in record time was the culmination of decades of work on mRNA technology. Given this recent success, it is worth exploring the potential future applications of this technology as well.
Understanding how an mRNA vaccine works and its advantages
As little as 2 years ago, the general public had almost no idea what an mRNA vaccine was. It was widely considered to be an unknown but potentially promising development in the treatment of cancer and prevention of other infectious diseases. The remarkable speed and overall efficacy of mRNA vaccines has since sent scientific interest in this technology skyrocketing. Most mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 have a +90% efficacy rate, which is incredibly high considering that traditional flu vaccines often have difficulty hitting 50%.
While new to the public, mRNA vaccines have been studied and researched for decades, and are now quite well-understood within the medical community. mRNA vaccines are designed to use the genomic sequences of the target antigen, as a means of delivering genetic instructions for making a portion of the target virus visible to an individual’s immune system.
Unlike traditional vaccines which inject a weak or inactive section of the virus, mRNA sends a “messenger” RNA blueprint with instructions to synthetically mimic a protein spike, which in turn similarly induces an immune response. There is no interaction with the patient’s DNA, as the mRNA never enters the nucleus of a cell. Having served its purpose, its ingredients are broken down and discarded by the host body in a matter of days.
A key advantage of this approach is that it involves minimal contamination. This critical feature lets the body respond efficiently to emerging resistant antigenic variants, and allows the vaccine itself to be expedited for modifications as needed. Also important is the speed at which mRNA vaccines can be researched, produced, tested, and replicated.
Traditional vaccines require a live host to develop antibodies, and come with the risk of infection from the virus being treated. By contrast, a key advantage of mRNA vaccines is that they can be “copy/pasted” and scaled up very quickly, reducing standard trial times from ten years down to just two or three years.
Current applications for mRNA vaccines
Dealing with the imminent threat of Covid-19 has taken up a great deal of bandwidth within the medical community, but as the pandemic wanes and society begins to stabilize, many companies are switching their focus back to other diseases and illnesses that had been pushed to the back burner since early 2020. Despite this setback, the advantages of developing the mRNA vaccine framework will greatly increase efficiency among other vaccine developments going forward, now that the pharmaceutical companies have established a new set of best practices for this emergent technology.
In the coming years, mRNA vaccines could be used to prevent other types of infection or disease, as well as therapeutically augmenting immunity post-infection. The utility of mRNA vaccines are currently being studied for viruses such as Zika, influenza, rabies, and HIV, as well as for some forms of cancer.
Future applications of the mRNA vaccines
Many healthcare companies are currently using mRNA technology to develop vaccines for other diseases. Now that research using this technology has entered the mainstream, progress is likely to move much faster across the board with regard to vaccine development.
Over the past 2 decades, mRNA vaccines have been explored extensively as cancer therapeutics – with little success to show for these efforts. However, using information gathered during the development of the Covid-19 vaccine, new innovations in mRNA research are being applied to various kinds of cancers, such as solid tumors, melanomas, prostate/breast cancers, and more. Many researchers are hopeful that such efforts will yield considerable rewards in the years to come.
One particular area of promise is in identifying specific antigens related to cancers and tumors, as these can be targeted quickly and effectively. Researchers now believe that certain cancers and tumors will not react positively to mRNA-based vaccines, but that some other forms of cancer could be treated effectively using the right techniques. Despite being in the early stages of development, the outlook for at least some types of cancer being treated this way is generally very positive.
Similarly, the potential for treating other viruses such as HIV, Zika, rabies, and other global killers is advancing rapidly. Clinical trials are currently underway for an effective mRNA vaccine against HIV, and initial results are promising.
With the success of the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, similar progress against viruses and other diseases are almost certain to follow. Clinixir is ready to partner with world-class pharmaceutical organizations to create safe and effective mRNA vaccines moving forward. Contact us today to get started.