mRNA has the potential to address a wide range of conditions and cancers
Vaccines have been around for more than 100 years, helping to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases and bring some former killers, like polio, close to global elimination.
Now, thanks to advances in vaccine technology, researchers are exploring entirely new approaches to vaccine development, administration and function. As these advances are brought from the early stages in the lab to the development pipeline, they hold the potential to develop a new generation of vaccines that could vastly expand target diseases and improve outcomes.
“But despite the success of vaccines to prevent disease, there are still significant unmet medical needs. Sanofi is addressing those needs both by significantly improving existing vaccines, as we’ve done for influenza, and looking for new, novel vaccines for serious diseases like RSV.”
Sanofi Pasteur is working actively to develop the foundation for these next-generation vaccines, leveraging its extensive internal scientific expertise as well as seeking collaborations around emerging technologies. Developments in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and micro fluids are combining to offer the potential to more rapidly develop vaccines for conditions where they are not a viable option today.
One of the more promising developments involves the use of messenger RNA (mRNA), a type of genetic material that helps determine the proteins a cell will produce. Instead of Sanofi trying to produce vaccine proteins in a manufacturing facility, mRNA technology would cause cells in the human body to “manufacture” those proteins.
Sanofi Pasteur recently extended its work in mRNA technology through a collaboration with Translate Bio, a Lexington, Mass.-based research company. The multi-year research and development arrangement includes an exclusive licensing agreement to develop mRNA vaccines. Under the agreement, Translate Bio and Sanofi Pasteur will jointly conduct research and development activities to advance mRNA vaccines during an initial three-year research term.
“There are several proteins that we need to make for novel vaccines, and unfortunately, some are extremely difficult to produce and formulate into a vaccine,” Jackson said. “Messenger RNA opens the door to these very difficult proteins that we otherwise couldn’t produce and it allows us to pursue targets that we otherwise would not have the tools for.”
Because mRNA is essentially a carrier of different genetic “messages” to the protein factory in the cells, it also might be possible to use the same basic vaccine for many conditions simply by changing the message but using the same carrier. That would make development of new vaccines faster, reduce clinical trial costs and improve the breadth of immune responses for infectious disease vaccines.
The technology has potential applications against a range of diseases, as well in the rapidly advancing field of oncology. Researchers believe that mRNA vaccines will offer a combination of high potency, rapid development, low-cost manufacture and safe administration.
Sanofi plans to work rapidly to assess the best potential candidates for mRNA vaccine targets in alignment with its strategic priorities, as it also pursues a wide range of technologies from inside and outside the company’s labs to improve vaccines and public health.