Breakthrough technology that transforms the body into a virus-zapping vaccine factory is poised to revolutionise the fight against COVID-19 but future pandemics and even cancer could be next, scientists say. The initial success of so-called messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines in late-stage trials by Moderna as well as Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is the first proof the concept works.
Both experimental vaccines had efficacy rates above 90% based on interim findings, which was far higher than expected and well above the 50% threshold U.S. regulators insist upon for vaccines.
Now scientists say the technology, a slow-motion revolution in the making since the discovery of mRNA nearly 60 years ago, could speed up the development of new vaccines.
The traditional method of creating vaccines – introducing a weakened or dead virus, or a piece of one, to stimulate the body’s immune system – takes over a decade on average, according to a 2013 study. One pandemic flu vaccine took over eight years while a hepatitis B vaccine was nearly 18 years in the making.
Moderna’s vaccine went from gene sequencing to the first human injection in 63 days.