In the Pfizer symposium “Revising the Paradigm: The Importance of Adult Vaccination Against Respiratory Diseases” at ECCMID 2021, Özlem Türeci (Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of BioNTech SE) discussed mRNA as a therapeutic agent. In her presentation “mRNA Vaccines: The Accelerated Development of a COVID-19 Vaccine Including Clinical Development and Early Data on Effectiveness”, she elucidated the mode of action of mRNA vaccines.
mRNA is a versatile molecule that can be designed and optimized pharmacologically as well as immunologically, which makes it suitable for a broad range of therapeutic applications. It can be engineered to deliver antigens, antibodies, cytokines, reprogramming factors, or any other type of protein into cells of interest. For example, unique compositions of mRNA vaccines have been engineered for individual cancer patients, based on patient-specific cancer mutation profiles. Because time is of the essence when treating cancer, the processes for mRNA vaccine design and manufacture have been optimized for quick delivery. As a result, accelerated development of mRNA vaccines for other therapeutic applications has been possible, such as in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
mRNA technology enables engineering of the molecule’s properties to fit multiple purposes. The features of an mRNA vaccine can be designed not only for a specific antigen, but also for targeted delivery into tissues and cells of interest, optimized type and level of adjuvanticity, or induction of antigen-specific tolerance (read more about mRNA engineering for therapeutic applications here). However, the principal mode of action is similar for all types of mRNA vaccines, as depicted in the schematic below.
mRNA Vaccines: The Accelerated Development of a COVID-19 Vaccine Including Clinical Development and Early Data on Effectiveness. Dr. Özlem Türeci (Mainz, Germany). Presented online at ECCMID 2021 on 9 July 2021.
Sahin, U., Karikó, K., & Türeci, Ö. (2014). mRNA-based therapeutics — developing a new class of drugs. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 13(10), 759-780. doi: 10.1038/nrd4278
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