Messenger RNA vaccines—also called mRNA vaccines—are some of the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States.
mRNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In contrast, most vaccines use weakened or inactivated versions or components of the disease-causing pathogen to stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies.
The body breaks mRNA down quickly, and larger doses trigger immune reactions. That can be a benefit for a vaccine, or possibly treating cancer, but it’s a problem for other uses. Researchers have figured out some tweaks – a layer of fat around mRNA vaccines keeps them circulating longer – but they’ll need more.
What if 2020 went down in history as the year synthetic biology dealt a mortal blow to future viruses and illnesses in general, rather than the year a virus ruined our health, wellbeing and livelihoods?
In a fall 2019 Gallup poll, the pharmaceutical industry earned the distinction as the most despised industry in America.
This was the lowest that pharma had scored in the survey’s 19-year history. Only the federal government, oil & gas, and the auto industry had ever scored lower.
At the time, there was no shortage of pharma scandals…
No wonder Americans loathed the pharma industry.
But its social pariah status would soon take a dramatic turn as some members of its class started to become…
Drugmakers became heroes almost overnight, and for good reason. That’s because they developed some of the world’s most effective vaccines at record-shattering speeds. And governments around the world can’t get their hands on them fast enough.
What Makes These Vaccines Truly Unique
The quest for a vaccine started in January 2020… long before the deadly virus was on the radar of most Americans or Europeans.
Researchers in China quickly mapped the genetic code of the virus in January. Then companies like US-based Moderna (MRNA) were able to design a vaccine within just a few days.
Pfizer (PFE) and its Germany-based partner BioNTech SE (BNTX) got to work on developing a vaccine around the same time.
Both of these COVID-19 vaccines were put through three phases of clinical trials and received emergency-use approval from the FDA in December 2020.
It took less than a year to develop what appear to be some of the most effective vaccines ever created.
Researchers figured out that our genes send short-lived RNA copies of themselves to little machines called ribosomes, where they are then translated into proteins. These short-lived copies are known as messenger RNA (mRNA).
The Messenger Shipped ‘Round the World
The COVID-19 vaccines represent the first time mRNA technology has been effectively put to use.
Essentially, the vaccines send a message that teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.
It was an incredible breakthrough. One that will not only help put an end to this once-in-a-century pandemic, but the technology could also effectively prevent pandemics from ever occurring again.
Now that we have proven the tech works, adapting the vaccines to variations of this coronavirus—or any other virus—simply requires rewriting the message.
The Message Is Clear: Bigger Breakthroughs Are on Their Way
There may not be a need to go through the same long and expensive clinical trial processes every time, either.
The FDA is already looking into ways to shorten the timeline for approving vaccine alterations that are more effective against mutations of the coronavirus.
Eventually, we may be able to deploy new vaccines for any virus within a matter of weeks or possibly even days.
We now have a much faster, cheaper, safer, and simpler way to make vaccines, and that is very likely just the start.
This could mark the beginning of a revolutionary new approach to medicine.
Get Ready to Hear More About This “Viral” Technology
COVID-19 has tragically killed millions of people, and wreaked havoc on the global economy and society in general. But if there are any silver linings that emerged from the pandemic, the miraculous breakthrough of mRNA technology should top the list.
Thanks to decades’ worth of research and the hard work of thousands of scientists, doctors, clinical researchers, and many other frontline workers, the rollout of vaccines will help the world recover from this pandemic.
And with this new tech at its disposal, the biotech industry may very well make pandemics a topic left for the history books.
And, one day, it won’t just be pandemics that are left to the history books.
An Opportunity Bigger than All the Vaccine MVPs Combined
These synthetic messengers that are capable of reprogramming our cells could potentially be used to mount an immune response to almost any invader.
MRNA could one day be used to tackle diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.
And we could hear about it sooner than any of us would think. That’s because there are already companies using this technology right now to diagnose, treat, cure, and even prevent some of today’s deadliest diseases.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Novartis (NVS), the National Institutes of Health, and Yale University are using the coronavirus vaccine as a blueprint to immunize against malaria.
The US Patent & Trademark Office published their filing on February 4 for this novel vaccine. If approved, this is a coronavirus-sized opportunity, as there were 409,000 malaria deaths and some 229 million cases in 2019 alone.
If you think pharma is exciting now, just wait till you hear what’s coming next!