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Some believe it will revolutionize the way we treat illness, including cancer & COVID.

The innovations & limitations of a cutting-edge vaccine technology as the FDA considers another mRNA vaccine for emergency use.

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mRNA

  • mRNA: messenger ribonucleic acid
  • mRNA plays a role in how our cells synthesize proteins, which are key building blocks for life.
  • mRNA vaccines deliver a code or blueprint to our cells on how to produce a non-infectious viral protein (a unique part of the virus “shell”).
  • Like a factory, our bodies produce this viral protein, identify it as an “intruder” and build immunity against it.
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“With traditional vaccines, you have to do a lot of development. You need a big factory to make the protein, or the virus, and it takes a long time to grow them. The beauty of mRNA is that you don’t need that.”

Scientist, inventor and M.I.T. professor Dr. Robert Langer started researching mRNA vaccine technology in the 1970s and is a co-founder of the drugmaker Moderna, which has produced an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
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Why This Is Different

  • Traditional vaccines use a small amount of an actual virus to spark an immune response. mRNA vaccines do not.
  • Once the genetic sequence of a virus is available, scientists can quickly isolate a viral protein to develop a vaccine.
  • Although rare, a person receiving *certain* vaccines could become temporarily contagious. Since there’s no actual virus in the mRNA vaccine, contagion is not a concern.
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Limitations

  • mRNA vaccines have never been approved for human use. One reason: Past human trials have not shown enduring immunity. We don’t know the exact length or quality of immunity of any COVID vaccine at this time.
  • We have no long-term data on use of this vaccine technology.
  • If it overheats, it becomes ineffective. Many vaccines need refrigeration; mRNA vaccines need special freezers.
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“The primary purpose of many vaccines is harm reduction. This is the best way to consider the latest COVID mRNA vaccines – as an aid to reduce the severity of clinical illness in America.”

Dr. Jessica Whittle, Dir. of Research, Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Univ. of Tennessee College of Medicine. Past mRNA vaccines were studied for SARS & MERS. Dr. Whittle says this is one reason mRNA COVID-19 vaccine development was possible for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
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To consider: Prior mRNA vaccine studies have not revealed major safety issues. The FDA's advisory board will review Moderna's mRNA vaccine for emergency use authorization on Dec. 18th. This technology continues to be studied in other areas, including cancer: “I was actually witnessing the cancer cells shrinking before my eyes."

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Interesting read from last fall: October 2019:

Unlocking the potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA

Brad Kremer had waited months to receive an experimental cancer vaccine called BNT122, during which time the melanoma on his skin had spread to his liver and spine. His back pain was getting worse, he was rapidly losing weight and new cancerous lesions kept appearing on his left thigh. “It was very scary,” says Kremer, a 52-year-old sales representative from Acton, Massachusetts.

But within weeks of his first injection in March, Kremer could see that the vaccine was working. The coin-sized melanoma spots that popped up from his skin were now flat discolourations measuring millimetres across. “I was actually witnessing the cancer cells shrinking before my eyes,” he says. Several doses later, his appetite has returned, his back pain has subsided and scans show that his cancer is continuing to retreat.

Kremer’s dramatic response exemplifies the medical potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA. In this method, strings of lab-synthesized nucleotides train the immune system to recognize and destroy disease-causing agents — be they cancer cells or infectious viruses.

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Additional Sources:

https://news.mit.edu/2020/rna-vaccines-explained-covid-19-1211

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-are-mrna-vaccines-so-exciting-2020121021599