Moderna Aiming mRNA Technology at Viral Threats Beyond COVID-19

Moderna_Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel sees significant growth opportunities for his company and messenger RNA-based vaccines. He believes the promise of mRNA vaccines is so great they will become a disruptive force in preventing viral infections.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Bancel pointed to the success of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine and suggested that was only the beginning. The company is developing vaccines for different viral infections, including the Zika virus, HIV, and the flu. 

Many of the world’s viruses, including Zika, CMV, and Epstein-Barr, do not have a readily available vaccine. There are also several novel viruses that are of concern. Over the past 40 years, Moderna said an average of two of these novel viruses have been discovered each year, including HIV-1, Hepatitis C and SARS-CoV-2. 

Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna has ten different experimental vaccines in development. Some are in human trials, while others have not yet reached that stage. Earlier this month, the company dosed its first patient in a Phase I/II study of its mRNA-based flu vaccine. 

As BioSpace reported, Moderna’s mRNA-1010 flu vaccine candidate targets viral strains that have been recommended by the World Health Organization, which tracks the prevalence of these lineages. 

The strains included in Moderna’s vaccine candidate include seasonal influenza A H1N1, H3N2, and influenza B Yamagata and Victoria. In the Phase I/II study, about 180 healthy adults will receive the vaccine and be assessed for safety, reactogenicity and immunogenicity. Additionally, Moderna is investigating additional booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine and plans to initiate a clinical study for its HIV vaccine later this year. 

One of Moderna’s long-term goals is to develop a single “supershot” vaccine that could include multiple vaccines for respiratory-related viruses, including the flu, COVID-19 and others. 

“Our goal is to give you several mRNAs in a single shot at your local CVS or GP every August or September,” Bancel said.

Clinical data has shown that Moderna’s vaccine candidates are safe and can generate durable immune responses to viral antigens. Earlier this year, Moderna held its second-annual Vaccines Day that showcased its mRNA programs across multiple indications, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV). For its RSV vaccine candidate, which uses the same lipid nanoparticle (LNP) as Moderna’s authorized Covid-19 vaccine, the company said interim data from a younger-adult cohort in the Phase I study shows the vaccine is well-tolerated. 

The candidate mRNA-1345 was shown to increase RSV neutralizing antibodies in seropositive younger adults. Neutralizing antibodies were confirmed to be present at baseline in all participants.

Although it had long been a unicorn company for investors, Moderna made its bones with its COVID-19 vaccine. The company is currently assessing booster options, as well as efficacy in pediatric patients. 

Even as different variants of COVID-19 become a concern, Bancel noted that the usefulness of mRNA technology allows researchers to quickly encode the genetic variants into a vaccine to make them more effective against emerging virulent strains if necessary.

That mRNA encoding capacity will also allow the company to focus on vaccine development for a myriad of viral infections. The capabilities of working with mRNA provide Moderna with some advantages over traditional development due to speed and adaptability. Calling the process “straightforward,” the process does not require new technology nor processes. 

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Bancel said.

In addition to using mRNA to go after viruses, Moderna also imagines the mRNA technology will ultimately be useful in targeting other serious indications, including heart disease, cancer and rare diseases. 

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