With the success of the Covid-19 vaccination comes the hope that mRNA technology can soon be used for other vaccinations.
The platform would be ideal for annual influenza vaccinations, as well as for chronic diseases such as hepatitis B.
On average, it takes ten years to develop a vaccine. However, the coronavirus vaccines were available within ten months. A development time often referred to as the “speed of light”.
Development could build on research
The success of the mRNA Technology vaccines against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus is also thanks to decades of preliminary research, says Klaus Cichutek, President of the Paul Ehrlich Institute. As far as the protective antigen is concerned, research has already been done on MERS coronaviruses and the original SARS coronavirus, and it has also been found in animal models that the spike proteins are very well suited to providing protection against infections. In addition, one could fall back on decades of experience with mRNA Technology as a tumor immunotherapeutic agent.
New vaccines based on mRNA
You can quickly adapt mRNA vaccine technology to new virus variants. This is their great advantage, emphasizes Klaus Cichutek. The technology would therefore be suitable for the seasonal influenza vaccine, for which lead times of several months are currently required. “Of course, vaccines with short conversion and production times would have serious advantages.”
In addition, mRNA-based HIV, tuberculosis and malaria vaccines are also conceivable. “However, one should not expect miracles from the vaccines,” says the biochemist. Especially with regard to the HI virus, there would be major hurdles due to the special characteristics of the virus. HIV survives in the body for a very long time, which is why latently infected cells must also be identified and eliminated. It also mutates, which is why good antigen design is necessary. According to Cichutek, it is currently unclear whether a new vaccine technology will bring the breakthrough here.
MRNA technology in cancer therapy
An mRNA vaccination could also represent a new, complementary form of therapy in cancer therapy, says Klaus Cichutek. The immune system has to relearn how to recognize and fight tumor cells. By means of mRNA vaccination, the “blueprint” of the protein that is 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 against specific cancer cells can be achieved through vaccination.”
However, the direct benefit for patients still has to be proven. “We all hope that there will be a 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 bring advances in the treatment of hepatitis B, a chronic viral infection. “Anyone who carries the virus has a high risk of developing cancer and suffering from liver failure,” says Ulrike Protzer, Director 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 is also conceivable for hepatitis B diseases, as is the use of mRNA in T cell therapy. T cells are immune cells that the body can produce itself. Vaccination increases the proliferation of these cells and their function.
“And a third application, which is not actually an mRNA application but an RNA application, is the use of short RNAs for what we call RNA interference,” reports the virologist. While mRNA plays a major role in protein production, these short RNAs block production. A mechanism that can also be used effectively against viruses. “If you can block the protein production of the virus, you block the whole virus,” says Protzer.
component of personalized medicine
RNA-based medicine is an important step towards more personalized medicine, everyone agreed at the technology talks at the Alpbach Forum. Its development began almost 30 years ago, but from today’s perspective it is not yet clear where it will end. Source Science ORF