Health

How mRNA technology is changing vaccine therapy

Back in January, just a month later Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for emergency use, Fear of infectious variants began to dominate the country – and Moderna scientists soon realized that this could be a threat.

The company’s president, Dr. Stephen Hogue, said: “We said,’If we don’t start now, by the fall, these variants will be a real concern and we won’t have the latest vaccines in case people start to re-infect. I thought about it. “

After millions of doses from its own production line in Norwood, Massachusetts, Hooge’s team set about rebuilding the vaccine.

National Public Radio correspondent Allison Aubrey asked, “And within a week, did you design a new vaccine?”

“We really designed the vaccine overnight, started manufacturing it, got it, and put it into clinical trials within a month,” he replied.

This was a breakthrough as it can take years to make a new vaccine. “Is that the case?” Aubrey asked.

“Well, that has something to do with our technology,” Hooge said. “We use what we call messenger RNA, or mRNA for short. It’s really just an instruction molecule, like a software program in a cell. An instruction about what a virus looks like. Just send it to the immune system, that is, it’s like software. With a program or Word document, you can edit and modify something and make it very quickly. “

He makes it sound very easy, but it took more than a decade of research and many technical hurdles. Now the company has some big plans. “We spent an incredible year using messenger RNA to fight the pandemic,” Hooge said. “But I think we’re just getting started in the field of infectious diseases, so there are many other vaccines we’re advocating.”

Moderna’s research pipeline includes everything from HIV vaccines to the treatment of heart disease to vaccines against various types of cancer such as lymphoma and melanoma.

Connie Franciosi is already in one clinical trial. She was diagnosed with melanoma in May 2020 and is a two-time cancer survivor. And after surgery to get rid of melanoma, her doctor had some nasty news: “He showed that they found melanoma cells in my lymph nodes, which I further It meant that I needed to be treated, “Franciosi said.

“So were you at high risk of recurrence?” Aubrey asked.

“Yes. I was once again considered at high risk for melanoma.”

She started an immunotherapeutic drug to fight cancer – and she was offered the opportunity to get an experimental mRNA vaccine designed to prevent recurrence.

“When we weighed the potential benefits of something like this, I had to ask for it,” Franciosi said.

Dr. Ryan Sullivan of Massachusetts General Hospital is treating Francioshi. He said the idea was that the vaccine could help produce the right combination of immune cells to fight cancer: “It’s definitely too early to say I’m optimistic, but the jury. Members have not yet come out. The best scenario has been shown that mRNA vaccines and standard immunotherapy reduce the risk of recurrence, and if it happens, it will tell how to treat future patients. Will change. “

It will take several years to determine this. Meanwhile, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel believes that mRNA technology can revolutionize the flu shots that millions of people are already receiving each year.

Currently, it takes several months to produce an influenza vaccine. “Everything is wrong about that. The process of making it doesn’t make sense,” Bansel said.

To make a shot, scientists actually inject the flu virus into the eggs. This is a decades-old approach, and one of the reasons, according to Bansel, is that it is not always effective. “We need to start very early, so we need to guess which stocks will occur in the United States. Next Year. “

So his plan is to change this. Moderna aims to begin clinical trials later this year, and Moderna wants to combine a coronavirus vaccine with a new flu shot if it turns out that a COVID booster is needed. “So we’re going to throw everything out the window and give you a good, highly efficient vaccine every winter,” Bansel said. “And you can combine it with a COVID vaccine booster to have a nice winter.”

That is his vision for the future. It’s not clear what this will be, but what is clear is that Moderna (which has grown from a small startup to a popular name over the course of a year) is betting on the speed and variety of mRNA technology.

Aubrey asked Hooge, “Basically, have you developed a delivery system for all kinds of different medicines and treatments?”

“It’s really a technology promise,” he replied. “It’s really the same system every time. Just like we updated the vaccine in January for a new variant of concern with SA RS-CoV-2, all the other viruses we see. It can actually be updated to chase after. Just as quickly. And it really enables us to advance the drug across a wide range of illnesses, both cancer and vaccine. “

Meanwhile, Connie Francioshi says she has returned to her busy life and returned to the garden.

“You seem to have a lot to live,” Aubrey said.

“I do. There are certain things I can’t change-the fact that I can’t change my age, I can’t change my DNA, or I got cancer. But I I can change my attitude towards it. I was offered to do everything I could to avoid a recurrence. “

She also feels that she is giving back by participating in the mRNA research trial.

“I feel very lucky,” said Francioshi. “I feel really lucky to have this opportunity because you are helping humanity, helping future people, and helping people you will never meet.”


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A story produced by Amol Mhatre. Editor: Chad Cardan.


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How the coronavirus is changing scientific research …

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How mRNA technology is changing vaccine therapy

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