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How COVID vaccine unlocked the power of RNA vaccines?

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the importance of vaccine development to fight pandemic, infectious and zoonotic diseases. RNA vaccines are proving their worth for five years and one global pandemic later. Two RNA vaccine applicants, one from the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, and another from Moderna in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received emergency approval in many countries from regulators to tackle COVID-19 last month. For nearly three decades, the concept of using RNA in vaccines has been around. Genetic technology, more streamlined than traditional approaches, helps researchers to fast-track certain steps of research and production of vaccines. Solutions for especially recalcitrant diseases, such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria, may now be the result of intense interest. And seasonal-flu vaccines could be enhanced by the pace at which they can be produced.

RNA vaccines operate by adding an mRNA sequence (the molecule that tells cells what to build) coded for a particular disease antigen, unlike a regular vaccine, once generated within the body, the antigen is recognised by the immune system, preparing it to battle the real thing.

Most current research is on RNA vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer, there is also some early research into the efficacy of RNA vaccines for allergies for which there are some early-stage clinical trials. Before mRNA vaccines will b. ecome routine therapies, there is still a lot of work to be done. In the meantime, we need a better understanding of their possible side effects and more proof of their long-term effectiveness. To resolve technical hurdles such as vaccine stability and delivery, more research is required. What production method(s) are currently the best is not yet certain. There is minimal clinical trial data; further long-term trials are required to assess the efficacy of RNA vaccines.

Advances in technology are now helping scientists close in on some of the holy grails of vaccine production, such as a universal flu shot that would operate without being redesigned each year against any strain of the virus. Others in lower-income countries are eyeing jabs against HIV and other top killers. RNA vaccines could contain instructions for multiple antigens, either strung together in a single strand or in a single nanoparticle with multiple RNAs packed together. Companies such as Moderna Therapeutics, CureVac and BioNTech are active in cancer and infectious disease phase I trials of RNA vaccines. These companies are also investigating the wider use of RNA therapeutics for diseases where essential proteins are lacking or defective and a functional copy of the protein could be expressed using mRNA treatments.

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