Life-saving vaccines targeting serious health conditions including cancer and heart disease could be ready within the next seven years, experts believe.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, said the treatment will be “highly effective” with the potential to save “many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives” as soon as 2030.
The groundbreaking research could result in a a single injection offering protection against multiple respiratory infections – including COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Meanwhile, diseases for which there are currently no drugs could be treated by mRNA therapies – which train cells how to produce a protein that awakens the body’s immune response.
Studies in cancer, as well as infectious, cardiovascular, autoimmune and rare diseases, have all shown “tremendous promise”, Dr Burton revealed.
He told The Guardian: “I think we will have mRNA-based therapies for rare diseases that were previously undruggable, and I think 10 years from now, we will be approaching a world where you can truly identify the genetic cause of the disease and, with relative simplicity, go and edit that out and repair it using mRNA-based technology.”
How would personalised cancer vaccines work?
To vaccinate someone against cancer, doctors begin by taking a biopsy of the patient’s tumour before genetic sequencing is used to identify mutations.
An algorithm identifies which mutations are causing the growth of the cancer and could trigger the immune system.
A molecule of mRNA is produced with instructions to make antigens which cause an immune response.
The mRNA, once injected, is translated into proteins identical to those found on tumour cells. Immune cells then collide with and destroy cancer cells carrying the same proteins.
Dr Burton added: “I think what we have learned in recent months is that if you ever thought that mRNA was just for infectious diseases, or just for COVID, the evidence now is that that’s absolutely not the case.
“It can be applied to all sorts of disease areas; we are in cancer, infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, rare disease.
“We have studies in all of those areas and they have all shown tremendous promise.”
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Dr Burton said the pandemic has allowed Moderna to “scale up manufacturing”, meaning the company is now “extremely good at making large amounts of vaccine very quickly”.
The pandemic “meant that things that might have unspooled over the next decade or even 15 years, were compressed down into a year or a year and a half”, he said.
However, scientists have warned a high level of investment is required to maintain the rapid progress, which has surged “by an order of magnitude” in the past three years.