Alpbach Technology Talks: New Areas of Application for mRNA Technology

Alpbach Technology Talks: New Areas of Application for mRNA Technology

On average, it takes ten years to develop a vaccine. However, the coronavirus vaccines became available within ten months. An evolution time is often referred to as the “speed of light”.

research can develop

The success of mRNA vaccines against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus is also thanks to decades of preliminary research, says Claus Sichutek, president of Paul Ehrlich Institute, As far as protective antigens are concerned, MERS coronaviruses and the original SARS coronavirus have already been researched, and it has also been found in animal models that spike proteins are very suitable for conferring protection against infection. In addition, one can trace back decades of experience with mRNA as a tumor immunotherapeutic agent.

New vaccines based on mRNA

You can quickly adapt mRNA vaccine technology to new virus variants. This is their big advantage, stresses Klaus Sichutek. This technology would therefore be suitable for a seasonal influenza vaccine, which currently requires a lead time of several months. “Of course, vaccines with shorter conversion and production times would have serious benefits.”

In addition, mRNA-based vaccines for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are also conceivable. “However, one should not expect miracles from vaccines,” says the biochemist. With regard to the HI virus in particular, there will be major constraints due to the special characteristics of the virus. HIV survives in the body for a very long time, which is why recently infected cells must also be identified and eliminated. It also mutates, which is why good antigen design is essential. According to Sichutec, it is currently not clear whether the new vaccine technology will bring success here.

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mRNA in cancer therapy

An mRNA vaccination could also represent a new, complementary form of therapy in cancer therapy, says Klaus Sichutek. The immune system has to learn to recognize and fight tumor cells. Through mRNA vaccination, a “blueprint” of proteins specific to the tumor can be transmitted to the body. “Tumor-specific antigens are well defined and it has already been shown in clinical trials that an immune response can be elicited against specific cancer cells through vaccination.”

However, the direct benefit for patients has yet to be proven. “We all hope that there will be some breakthrough,” says the president of the Paul Ehrlich Institute. “I’m hopeful, but he’s not here today.”

Use in chronic viral diseases

RNA technologies could also lead to advances in the treatment of hepatitis B, a chronic viral infection. “Anyone who carries the virus has a higher risk of developing cancer and liver damage,” says Ulrike ProtzerDirector of the Institute of Virology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. “Each year, 880,000 people die as a result of their hepatitis B infection.”

Similar to cancer, therapeutic vaccination for hepatitis B diseases is also conceivable, as is the use of mRNA in T cell therapy. T cells are immune cells that the body can produce on its own. Vaccination increases the proliferation of these cells and their function.

“And a third application, which is not really an mRNA application, but an RNA application, is the use of short RNA for what we call RNA interference,” the virologist reports. While mRNA plays a major role in protein production, these small RNAs inhibit production. A mechanism that can also be used effectively against viruses. “If you can block the protein production of the virus, you can block the whole virus,” Protzer says.

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component of personalized medicine

RNA-based medicine is an important step towards more personalized medicine, technology talks In the forum Alpbach agreed. Its development began about 30 years ago, but from today’s point of view it is not yet clear where it will end.

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