Moderna adds three new mRNA-based vaccines to research pipeline

The biotech company announced it is developing vaccines against influenza, HIV, and the Nipah virus
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CAMBRIDGE, MA —Moderna announced that it will expand its roster of mRNA-based vaccines to develop three new ones against influenza, HIV, and the Nipah virus. The biotechnology company said that the project supports Moderna’s objective to expand its infectious disease portfolio based on its experience with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Even as we have shown that our mRNA-based vaccine can prevent COVID-19, this has encouraged us to pursue more-ambitious development programs within our prophylactic vaccines modality,” CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the release. He presented the proposed research programs at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on January 11.

The mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, vaccine is distinguished from traditional vaccines that use live-attenuated or weakened viruses, according to News Medical

MRNA vaccines, like the one undergoing development at Moderna, contain instructions to teach cells how to make a protein or protein fragment to elicit an immune response against the protein. The body then produces antibodies against the infection by targeting an external, wild-type version of the protein when the body encounters it.

Moderna’s three new mRNA-based vaccines will operate on the same principle.

“Today, we are announcing three new vaccine programs addressing seasonal flu, HIV, and the Nipah virus, some of which have eluded traditional vaccine efforts, and all of which we believe can be addressed with our mRNA technology,” he added.

The company will begin phase one of clinical trials for its influenza vaccine, called mRNA-1010, mRNA-1020, mRNA-1030, this year. The vaccine will target seasonal flu types A and B, which “place a substantial burden on healthcare systems” every year, the company said.

Moderna’s HIV vaccine, mRNA-1644 & mRNA-1574, will also undergo its initial phase of study this year. The mRNA-1644 is a collaborative project with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which the company called a “novel approach to the HIV vaccine strategy.”

The company will also study the mRNA-1215 vaccine for the Nipah virus, a zoonotic pathogen that is transmitted to humans from animals, contaminated food, or direct human-to-human transmission, according to Moderna. Its case fatality rate among the infected is between 40% to 75%. 

Bancel has called 2020 an “extraordinary proof-of-concept period” for the company, in spite of the wholesale societal upheaval of the “uniquely challenging year.” Moderna now boasts 24 mRNA vaccine development programs for an array of diseases and conditions in its research pipeline, including exploratory cancer vaccines.

Readers, please note that most current COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use only.

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