Moderna using mRNA technology to create vaccines for seasonal flu, HIV and Nipah virus, company says

Biotech giant Moderna is using what some experts have called “21st-century science” to create three new vaccines to protect against the seasonal flu, HIV and Nipah virus, respectively, the company announced on Monday. 

Moderna — the company that created one of the two COVID-19 vaccines that were approved late last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use — said on Monday that it will pursue the development of three new vaccines: one for the seasonal flu, one for HIV, and one for Nipah virus using mRNA technology, according to a news release. 

As for the flu vaccine, in particular, Moderna said it “plans to explore potential combination vaccines against flu, SARS-CoV-2, RSV and human metapneumovirus (hMPV).” 

Phase 1 clinical trials for the flu vaccine program are expected to begin sometime this year, Moderna said. 

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MRNA VACCINES AND CONVENTIONAL ONES?

The company’s potential vaccine agist HIV, a virus that can lead to AIDS, is being developed in collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Moderna said, noting that Phase 1 clinical trails for this vaccine are also expected to begin this year. 

Lastly, the company is also exploring a vaccine to protect against Nipah virus, “a zoonotic virus transmitted to humans from animals, contaminated food, or through direct human-to-human transmission and causes a range of illnesses including fatal encephalitis,” per Moderna. Outbreaks have largely occurred in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.

“The uniquely challenging year of 2020 for all of society proved to be an extraordinary proof-of-concept period for Moderna,”  said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in a statement.

 “Even as we have shown that our mRNA-based vaccine can prevent COVID-19, this has encouraged us to pursue more-ambitious development programs within our prophylactic vaccines modality,” he added. 

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Unlike conventional vaccines, which are produced by growing weakened forms of a virus in chicken eggs or certain mammalian cells in a lab, RNA vaccines only require the pathogen’s genetic code; they do not use an active or dormant virus. 

This new, gene-based technology has proven effective in the development of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech in addition to the one created by Moderna. The success seen with this technology in creating an effective vaccine against the novel virus has given scientists hope that the same technology can be used to fight against other viral diseases, as Moderna is attempting to do, with some experts saying the technology could even be used to fight against cancer. 

For a basic overview of the differences between conventional vaccines and those made with RNA technology, you can read more here

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