By: Makayla Ross
Image credit: Moderna. CC-BY-NC.
Two years ago, most people had never heard of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines nor the entire field of mRNA vaccine development that many researchers have dedicated their careers to, but today “mRNA vaccine” is becoming a household term. When the first mRNA vaccines were developed against COVID-19 infection, most people had no idea that mRNA vaccines have actually been in the works since the 1990s (1). The idea of mRNA vaccines is relatively simple: send messenger RNA (mRNA) into a cell where RNA transcripts are then translated into proteins that signal the host to create an immune response to actual viruses it might encounter in the future (2). In the case of COVID-19, this means sending mRNA into cells to teach them how to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins so that the immune system will recognize the virus and be ready to mount a response. Researchers have been testing this technology for decades but with little funding or pharmaceutical interest (1,2), that is until the COVID-19 pandemic.
The success of mRNA vaccine development in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response has demonstrated that mRNA technology can be used to quickly and efficiently create a safe and effective vaccine (1,3). Experts are saying that this mRNA vaccine success could be the most significant change in vaccine development since Edward Jenner’s first vaccine in 1796 (1). Researchers and pharmaceutical companies alike are now jumping at the opportunity to see what else can be done using this technology. Moderna, the creator of the spikevax mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, has recently announced its plan to have mRNA vaccines against 15 of some of the most dangerous pathogens ready for clinical trials by 2025 (3). These include the deadly TB, HIV and Ebola along with mosquito-borne viruses like malaria, dengue, and Chikungunya, as well as several other zoonotic and tick-borne viruses (3). If they are successful in creating effective vaccines for even a few of these diseases, it would have a major impact on global public health.
In addition to their plans to develop mRNA vaccines against 15 of the major, current infectious diseases, Moderna has come up with an approach for combatting new and neglected diseases as well. Their new program, called mRNA Access, aims to “accelerate the creation of new vaccines using mRNA technology in collaboration with global partners” (5). Researchers from anywhere in the world can become a member of mRNA Access to gain access to Moderna’s complete mRNA vaccine development program, as well as support from Moderna’s own research teams, and use it to accelerate the discovery of more vaccines and treatments that are desperately needed (5). According to Moderna’s President, Stephen Hoge, the idea of mRNA Access is to make sure that “scientists who have great ideas for how they could make vaccines will be able to access [Moderna’s] standards and technology, almost as if they worked for Moderna” (4). The program is expected to start with a few academic labs around the globe and expand rapidly (3,4).
The creation of mRNA Access represents one of the most important lessons that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic: collaboration is key for combatting matters of public health. The prompt development of the COVID-19 vaccines would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the unprecedented amount of collaboration between scientists all over the world. mRNA Access comes at the opportune time to keep this collaborative momentum going and potentially lead to some major changes in the field of global public health.
You can find out more about Moderna’s mRNA Access program here: https://mrna-access.modernatx.com/