Before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic took hold, few people were aware of the existence of mRNA vaccines. Yet after months of vaccinations from Moderna and BioNTech and clear indications of robust protection to millions of people, it now seems hard to imagine a world without mRNA vaccine technology, especially as more traditional vaccines seem to falter against the new COVID-19 variants and the ravages of so-called ‘Long COVID’ become more apparent.
Yet, it wasn’t that long ago that Moderna and BioNTech were merely a bunch of start-ups, trying to develop profitable therapies for a variety of diseases, using the brand-new and largely unproven field of RNA therapeutics. Although the use of mRNA in particular for treatments has been investigated since 1989, even as recently as 2017 there were still many questions about safe and effective ways to deliver mRNA into cells, as per Khalid A. Hajj et al.
Clearly those issues have been resolved now in 2021, which makes one wonder about the other exciting possibilities that mRNA delivery offers, from vaccines for malaria, cancer, HIV, as well as curing autoimmune diseases. How did the field of mRNA vaccines develop so quickly, and what can we expect to see the coming years?