We spoke with David Bentley, co-director of the RNA Bioscience initiative at Anschutz Medical Campus, about how mRNA could change future vaccines after COVID.
DENVER – Researchers believe mRNA technology, which has been used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, could permanently change the way vaccines are developed.
They also believe it could change the way other diseases are treated, including cancer.
Here is our conversation with David Bentley, Co-Director of the RNA Bioscience Initiative at Anschutz Medical Campus.
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When was mRNA technology first discovered?
Bentley said it was first discovered in the early 1960s and research into its medical use began to be explored in the 1980s.
Like other new technologies, Bentley said scientists have to overcome different obstacles.
“For example, messenger RNA molecules are inherently very unstable in cells but to use them for therapeutic or vaccine purposes they need to be stabilized. It has been discovered over the years that there are certain chemical modifications that allow for mRNA to be stable enough when injected into people, in order to be useful. This was one of the technical hurdles that had to be overcome. There was the problem of making mRNA in large quantities It is also a technology that has developed over the decades since the 1980s or so, when some very visionary people first thought about the possibility of using messenger RNA for medicine. “
These obstacles were resolved before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020.
Over decades of research, at times, the use of mRNA has not always been taken seriously.
“Scientists are always skeptical and always very aware of the problems and obstacles along the way,” said Bentley. “And it’s the brave creatives who take on these tough challenges.”
“This is the start of a new era in RNA therapy,” said Bentley, who has studied this for 35 years.
Have we definitely changed the approach to vaccine development?
“I think so. I think so,” Bentley said. “Because messenger RNA technology is very agile. It’s very flexible. It’s a technology that can respond quickly to a new challenge. If and when another pandemic strikes, the first approach we’ll take is to use mRNA technology to develop a vaccine against it. It is a technology that you can develop quickly. We now know from the experience of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that it is a safe and very effective strategy. ”
Are there ways to apply what has been learned to other diseases?
“It is conceivable that in the future vaccines, personalized vaccines against cancer cells can be developed. We know that cancer cells express abnormal proteins,” Bentley said.
“If we could immunize people against these abnormal proteins and use our immune system to fight cancer, that’s a very exciting possibility. It is not yet a reality. It has been a dream for a long time. MRNA technology could make this dream come true. “
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has also said it is adding other diseases, including malaria, hepatitis B and cystic fibrosis to this list of diseases that warrant research because of the way the technology is used. MRNA can be adapted for different diseases.
“Due to COVID, this has been put on everyone’s radar,” Bentley said. “The power of the molecule is now clear to everyone.”
What could be the drawbacks?
the AAMC said there is still a lot to learn about the different potential uses of mRNA technology and the treatment of disease.
They also pointed out that there was a huge, concentrated effort around the world with a lot of money, all focused on developing a COVID vaccine. The question is, will this intensity hold up for other illnesses?
Bentley said it was optimistic that it is easier to invest in technology that is already in use.
“Investing in technology that has been proven, I think, is going to be a lot easier than investing in technology that has not been proven. Before the COVID pandemic, no one knew for sure how effective an RNA vaccine could be or if it would be. effective at all. We now know that there is totally convincing evidence that this is an effective strategy. “
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