Our approach to innovation in mRNA Vaccines

On September 14, 2021, we completed the acquisition of Translate Bio, a clinical-stage biotechnology company that specializes in mRNA therapies. The two teams had worked closely together since 2018 to design and develop a messenger RNA (mRNA) technology platform for vaccines. The platform is the basis for an array of innovations to fight multiple pathogens. The newly combined R&D teams are now focused on the launch of our mRNA Center of Excellence which aims to unlock the potential of next-generation mRNA vaccines and other strategic areas such as immunology, oncology, and rare diseases.

Su Peing Ng

"We combine maths and molecules so we can fully exploit all the digital tools and data at our disposal. That’s essential for putting mRNA vaccine candidates on a successful path for many infectious diseases–including seasonal influenza–that routinely threaten public health.” 

Sabine Vital, Head of Scientific and Digital Innovation, Vaccines R&D

Sudha Chivukula

“This is a real paradigm shift in how we think about vaccines – one that gives us more ways to design, develop, manufacture, and deliver vaccine candidates.” 

Regis Gervier, Head of the mRNA Center of Excellence

How do they work?

Vaccines work by teaching the body to recognize and destroy pathogens–germs such as viruses and bacteria. That learning process can begin with a small piece of the pathogen; often one of its proteins (referred to as an “antigen”). 

The core substance of a vaccine–the antigen–is often made as a purified protein in the lab, then formulated with other ingredients that help prompt the immune system to respond. But the antigen can also be generated directly in the body using the cell's own biological machinery: mRNA.

mRNA is a dynamic piece of genetic material that supplies the tiny biological factories inside cells with instructions for making proteins. An mRNA vaccine is designed to prompt the body's cells to make enough antigen to stimulate the immune system to launch a fleet of protective antibodies.

Delivery in a nanoparticle

mRNA is active, fragile, and easily broken down. It must be packaged carefully to ensure that it can get to the right place in the body: inside cells, where the protein-making machinery lives.

Our scientists package mRNA in lipid nanoparticles (LNPs): tiny, spherical droplets made of specialized fats called lipids. In the body, these droplets are engulfed by cells and, once inside, release their contents.

 
Discover how an mRNA vaccine is designed to work

Lipid nanoparticles have emerged as safe and effective delivery vehicles, particularly for RNA-based therapeutics. Engineering these nanoparticles—and their precious mRNA cargo—requires deep expertise in computer-based approaches, including machine learning and computational structural biology.

Find out more

Updates on our COVID-19 Vaccines

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Developing COVID-19 Vaccines: Behind the Scenes

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References

  • Li F (2016) Structure, Function, and Evolution of Coronavirus Spike Proteins. Annu Rev Virol 3:237-261. doi: 10.1146/annurev-virology-110615-042301
  • Rodríguez-Gascón A, del Pozo-Rodríguez A, Solinís MÁ (2014) Development of nucleic acid vaccines: use of self-amplifying RNA in lipid nanoparticles. Int J Nanomed 9:1833-1843. DOI: 10.2147/ijn.s39810