CNRS Research Director at BIOC* at Ecole Polytechnique (IP Paris)
Professor of Universities Exceptional Class 2 at Université d'Orléans
The use of mRNA was already a hot topic in science long before the arrival of Covid-19. The pandemic has only confirmed this molecule’s potential, which is the result of 20 years of academic research.
One of the main reasons for the medical value of mRNA is its fragility. As it naturally degrades between in anywhere between a few tens of minutes to two days after injection, the risks of undesirable side effects are considerably reduced in the long term.
At the time of injection, mRNA stimulates a patient's immune system. This allows it to simulate a reaction to a pathogen, so that it can then recognise and remember it.
Today, the possible uses for this molecule are not limited to Covid-19. There have been numerous preclinical studies testing mRNA vaccines against influenza, chikungunya, Zika, Ebola or HIV.
Director of the international RAIDS network at Institut Curie
Malignant tumours stimulate the production of a “shield” around it made from blood vessels, called “neovascularisation”. This weakens the immune response to the tumour, making the body more tolerant to it.
The immunostimulatory properties of mRNA allows the immune system to be re-trained so that it can recognise one or more markers of cancer cells. Therefore, we talk about an “anti-cancer” vaccine.
From a medical point of view, these tailor-made therapies are interesting, but the prototypes are likely to be very expensive and will be reserved for patients treated in centres with expertise in immunotherapy.
Advanced tumours can metastasise despite one or more treatments. If mRNA molecules continue to be successfully developed, they will complement the current therapeutic arsenal, combined with other targeted therapies, and thus, hopefully, further reduce the mortality of these diseases.
Programme Manager for Grand Challenge Bioproduction
RNA molecules have inestimable potential for the medicine of tomorrow. However, its bioproduction requires technical steps that put it at the crossroads between technological issues and industrial policies.
For the production of pharmaceutical grade RNA, steps must be certified as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). The production of certified template DNA is limited in the United States, so obtaining it involves a time constraint of several months.
Today, numerous technical innovations allow us to limit all these production constraints, and a lot of research continues to move in this direction.
The global pharmaceutical market is worth over $1,300bn. If we include new biotechnologies, it could reach $4,800bn. This is an unsustainable amount for our health systems, so the issue of finance is central to the future of biotherapies.
After her initial studies in molecular biology, Agnès Vernet trained as a science journalist at ESJ-Lille. For the past 14 years, she has been writing for various media, scientific magazines, professional titles and general press, in France and Switzerland. Since 1st February 2021, she is the elected President of the French association of science journalists (AJSPI).