The major biotech company ModernaTX, Inc. has been one of the forerunners in the race to develop an effective and safe vaccine against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The company's COVID-19 vaccine, called mRNA-1273, has received an emergency use authorization (EUA), by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2020. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for authorization in the European Union (EU).
Now, the firm has announced that it is brewing new mRNA-based vaccines against other viruses, including the influenza virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the Nipah virus.
What is an mRNA-based vaccine?
The coronavirus pandemic prompted companies to develop effective and safe vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. One of the promising new vaccines used as a messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine, which differs from traditional vaccines that use live-attenuated or weakened viruses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that mRNA vaccines can protect the body against infectious disease. To do this, the vaccine contains instructions to teach the cells how to make a protein, or a piece of a protein, that induces an immune response in the body against this protein. As a result, the body produces antibodies that can protect from infection by targeting the wild-type version of this protein if the body comes into contact with it.
Moderna moves to develop a range of mRNA vaccine candidates following its development of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine model. Image Credit: LookerStudio / Shutterstock.
Specifically, mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 provide instructions for the cells to produce a harmless piece of the Spike protein (S protein), which is found on the surface of the virus itself and is the mechanism by which the virus latches onto and infiltrates host cells. After this antigen triggers an immune response, the body produces neutralizing antibodies, which become primed and ready to fight off the real virus if it ever enters the body.
The biotechnology company, which has played a role in this pioneering use of mRNA in vaccines, announced that it is expanding its pipeline of innovative vaccines to target other pathogens by the same means. The company hopes to roll out three new development programs, which include new mRNA vaccine models against flu, HIV, and Nipah virus.
“Even as we have shown that our mRNA-based vaccine can prevent COVID-19, this has encouraged us to pursue more-ambitious development programs within our prophylactic vaccines modality,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer, explained.
“Today we are announcing three new vaccine programs addressing seasonal flu, HIV, and the Nipah virus, some of which have eluded traditional vaccine efforts, and all of which we believe can be addressed with our mRNA technology,” she added.
She also said that the company aims to extend its mRNA development work to 24 programs in five therapeutic areas.
The company’s flu vaccine, called mRNA-1010, mRNA-1020, and mRNA-1030, will target seasonal flu types A and B. These types of flu occur seasonally and vary in severity each year. Globally, there are about 3 to 5 million severe cases of flu, with 290,000 to 650,000 flu-related respiratory deaths.
The company wants to explore potential combination vaccines against flu, SARS-CoV-2, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the human metapneumovirus (hMPV).
Moderna also plans to roll out its vaccine against HIV, the mRNA-1644 and mRNA-1574. HIV infection may lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is responsible for about 690,000 deaths each year. There are about 2 million new HIV infections each year across the globe. The phase 1 study is expected to begin this year.
Lastly, the company also developed a vaccine against the Nipah virus, called the Nipah virus (NiV) vaccine or mRNA-1215. The virus is usually spread to humans from animals, contaminated food, or direct human-to-human transmission.
Apart from these vaccines, Moderna has also developed mRNA-based vaccines against the Zika virus, and pandemic influenza or H7N9 vaccine. Also, the company is developing vaccines against other infections, such as the cytomegalus virus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), and the parainfluenza type 3 (PIV3) vaccine (mRNA-1653), to name a few.
To date, there are more than 91.77 million COVID-19 cases now reported globally. Of these, 1.96 million have already died.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has a reported 94.1% efficacy at preventing Covid-19 illness, including severe disease.