Much of the world first met mRNA technology when it arrived in the form of COVID-19 vaccines. But that was far from the beginning for this transformative technology. Scientists have been studying mRNA technology in areas from infectious diseases to oncology for decades. They are working at the next frontier of medicine, where mRNA technology may allow them to solve problems that were previously insurmountable and potentially help prevent or treat disease in entirely new ways.
Besides preventive vaccines for infectious diseases, mRNA could also be used to develop treatments for cancer and rare diseases — and quickly. Once researchers have the genetic sequence of the antigen they want to encode, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, they can design a vaccine or therapeutic, then test it and make any necessary changes to the design more rapidly than previously possible.
In addition to the groundbreaking work being done in COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer is advancing the next wave of innovation through mRNA vaccines for several conditions, including influenza and shingles, diseases where it is known which antigens to include in a vaccine to provide protection.
In the case of the flu, we are working quickly to develop vaccine candidates that could target the precise flu virus strains predicted to be the most prevalent in any given season, offering people the best odds against the flu even as the virus continues to evolve.
A new era in immunization
mRNA technology could open doors to new ways of preventing and treating disease.
With an efficacy rate between 40% and 60%, today’s flu vaccines are the best hope at protecting against influenza illness. But with mRNA, there is the potential to do better — giving people an even higher chance of preventing an illness that contributes to hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths each year.
With an mRNA vaccine, which activates both arms of the immune system, pharmaceutical developers could provide better protection and manufacture doses more quickly than ever before.
That is one reason why Pfizer researchers are investing in mRNA technology. To make an mRNA flu vaccine, we begin with the genetic information of the flu strains predicted to be the most prevalent and create an mRNA strand that carries instructions to make a protein found in each of those strains. Once inside the body, the mRNA works in the body’s cells to produce those proteins and trigger the immune system to make antibodies, activating other immune cells to respond to the proteins. This process teaches the body how to protect against future infections from those strains of the flu virus.