Traditional vaccines have been a guiding light in medicine for centuries. Developed at the end of the 19th century for several infectious diseases, vaccines became healthcare's gold standard for disease prevention. However, traditional vaccines can take years—even decades—to produce. In today's globalized world, there is an increasing need for a very rapid response to new and emerging infectious diseases.
Over the past two decades, widespread interest in RNA-based technologies for developing prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines has increased. Interest heightened during preclinical and clinical trials, which revealed mRNA vaccines provide a safe and long-lasting immune response in humans.
Furthermore, the emergence of the SARS-COV-2 virus and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic proved that the world needed rapid development of a vaccine that was easily deployable across the world. Because of the previous research that had laid the groundwork for this technology, an effective COVID-19 vaccine was developed, produced, approved and deployed in less than a year.
Discovered in the 1960s, mRNA technology mimics a viral protein and tricks the immune system into mounting an immune response against the "invader." Powerful antibodies are produced that can provide long-lasting protection against an actual viral infection.
Advancements in the generation, purification and cellular delivery of RNA have enabled the development of RNA therapies across a broad array of applications, like cancer and Zika virus. The technology is cost-effective, relatively simple to manufacture and targets previously undruggable pathways.
This landscape-changing technology has the potential to be used to eliminate some of healthcare's most challenging diseases quickly and efficiently. While the technology is not new, COVID-19 unlocked the power of mRNA vaccines, and we are entering a new frontier in fighting disease.