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Is mRNA vaccine technology the way to cure cancer and AIDS?
Is mRNA vaccine technology the way to cure cancer and AIDS? An unexpected chain reaction of this global pandemic is how it catalyzed medical breakthroughs. Most prominently, the same technology used in the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has the potential to improve the treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV.
In early June of this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out that the extraordinary success of the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine has brought new hope to AIDS vaccine experts. In fact, based on advanced technology during the pandemic, researchers in multiple disciplines have rekindled their enthusiasm. Such a vaccine would be an amazing achievement for a vaccine against retrovirus (HIV), and scientists have been avoiding this virus for decades.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine was the first mRNA vaccine approved for use in humans, RNA-based vaccination dates back 25 years. In the 1990s, French researchers used RNA to encode influenza antigens in mice–meaning a substance that can cause an immune response. Unfortunately, barriers such as lack of funding and attention have hindered the development of this innovation-until now.
In the past year, thanks to government and private sector funding–and global collaboration in the scientific community–multiple mRNA COVID vaccines were created within one year. The previous vaccine development record was four years, (for mumps), which means that the rapid creation of this vaccine is an amazing achievement.
mRNA vaccines differ from their predecessors in several key ways. Traditional vaccines usually inject a weakened or dead virus into the patient, and then produce antibodies in the immune system, thereby training the immune system to recognize the virus the next time it invades the body.
However, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is injected with a piece of messenger RNA, which enters the patient’s body, causing their cells to produce a small piece of coronavirus called spike protein.
In the artistic description of coronaviruses, spike proteins are small dots on the outside of the virus, sticking out like sea urchin spines. Once the body starts to make these spikes, the immune system produces antibodies that recognize them. Later, if or when the real virus enters the body, the antibodies will recognize the external spikes and proceed to destroy the invading virus.
Scientists believe that mRNA vaccines are a breakthrough that will usher in a new era of medicine, a potential weapon against many other diseases, Dr. Jeffrey B. Ulmer, former head of preclinical research and development of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine department Say
Ulmer said: “In principle, mRNA vaccines can solve any infectious disease or cancer target that requires an immune response to protein antigens.” So in principle, everything is considered in terms of the ability to use mRNA. Ulmer pointed out that there is a caveat: bacterial pathogens are not effective against vaccines).
However, cancer is included. In fact, in theory, mRNA vaccines can be programmed specifically for cancer cells in patients, which means that personalized treatments can be created for any cancer patient. Because cancer mutations are unique to each person’s specific cancer, mRNA vaccines will be tailored to specific patients. This is possible because there are unique proteins on the surface of cancer cells, and mRNA vaccines can be programmed to produce antibodies against these exact proteins. In this way, doctors hope to prepare the patient’s immune system to recognize cancer and kill it.
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have already seen the potential of these new therapies. For example, BioNTech is testing mRNA vaccines against overexpressed but not mutated proteins, and has also signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for the treatment of melanoma. Moderna is also establishing mRNA therapy to guide the immune system to recognize mutations in a cancerous protein in a gene called KRAS.
Another area where significant progress has been made in research is HIV treatment. Researchers at Scripps University in California have developed a preliminary vaccine that shows the promise of preventing HIV infection. The goal of the vaccine is to stimulate the immune system to produce “broad-spectrum neutralizing antibodies,” whose purpose is to attach to the HIV spike protein that enters the cell and neutralize them.
ConserV Biosciences and eTheRNA announced in March that they would collaborate to provide such an mRNA HIV vaccine. In addition, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a global non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the development of HIV and AIDS vaccines, recently revealed that its mRNA HIV vaccine can induce 97% of participants in early clinical trials to produce the correct immunity reaction.
However, HIV and cancer are not the only disease treatments that can be improved through this new protocol.
Because mRNA technology can use the body’s own genes, it can also improve the vaccines we have. For example, during each flu season, the manufacturer decides which flu strains to target several months before the start of each flu season. For this reason, the effectiveness of the vaccine is only about 50% to 70%. But mRNA-based vaccines can be made very quickly, and so far tend to be more effective. BioNTech and Pfizer are separately working on a “universal” mRNA-based influenza vaccine. They hope that this vaccine will eliminate the need for seasonal influenza vaccines, requiring only injections every five years. Similar methods have also been proposed to build defenses against other diseases, including dengue fever, Zika, hepatitis C, and malaria.
However, these exciting new developments are not without challenges. The raw materials required for the development and storage of mRNA vaccines are very expensive. For example, Pfizer-Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine must be stored at -70°C and requires special refrigeration equipment for transportation and storage. Although this technology has great potential, once the current crisis subsides, its prohibitive development costs may force the company to abandon this research.
In addition, some mRNA vaccines require two doses to take effect, and many people don’t even bother to get a second shot. In fact, we have seen that millions of Americans have not received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Another hindering factor may be side effects. In clinical trials, 80% of people who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had some reaction to this shot. Most people’s symptoms are temporary, but include fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches.
Despite the high expectations, researchers still have a long way to go because any future mRNA vaccines that surpass the coronavirus are still in the early stages of development.
Nevertheless, Dr. Ulmer is “absolutely” optimistic about the potential of mRNA vaccine technology in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV. “He said: “I think there are obviously difficult challenges we have faced for a long time, but the success we have seen in the treatment of COVID RNA vaccines gives us some hope. Maybe this is a more effective technology. I think the next few years will see a lot of activity on this technology at hand, as well as its application to other infectious disease targets and cancer-and this is already in progress. “
(source:internet, reference only)