Messenger RNA, Big Pharma’s new El Dorado

Confined to research laboratories, far from hospitals and pharmacies, in spring 2020 it was only known to a small community of researchers passionate about biology, convinced of its potential. Powered by the success of the Covid-19 vaccines developed by the American Moderna and the German BioNTech – of which nearly a billion and a half doses have been injected into the world -, the technology known as “ribonucleic acid messenger ”or mRNA has now become a star. Researchers, investors and pharmaceutical manufacturers are now flocking to this booming market.

“They all ask us to work on this technology “, rejoices Chantal Pichon, researcher at the CNRS Molecular Biophysics Center in Orléans. For this pioneer of messenger RNA, who launched her work on the subject in 2005, at a time where few people believed it ”, the change is radical. Almost 80% of my funding requests were refused. Each time, I ran into responses like: “It’s very interesting, but too ambitious.” This is no longer the case “, she observes. The researcher is not the only one to notice this general excitement.

Read the survey: The messenger RNA vaccine saga now in the final sprint

Across the Rhine, the biotech Ethris, which is developing mRNA-based treatments to treat hitherto incurable lung diseases, has also been approached by a multitude of players in recent months. Large pharmaceutical companies, but also biotechs and vaccine manufacturers, all interested in his research. The success of the first mRNA vaccines by Moderna and BioNTech was a trigger. Not only have they shown that this technology is very effective, but, above all, that it can obtain marketing authorizations. This is a crucial step for anyone working on this technology “, analyzes its co-founder, Carsten Rudolph.

A host of investors

Because messenger RNA is far from being limited to only vaccines against Covid-19. Many other vaccines (against influenza, malaria, etc.) are already being studied in laboratories around the world. But also a plethora of therapeutic products in fields as diverse as cancer, infectious diseases, rare diseases, autoimmune diseases or regenerative medicine. In total, more than 150 vaccines and therapeutic products based on messenger RNA are currently being evaluated, at preclinical or clinical stages, according to the firm Roots Analysis. “Messenger RNAs will not be able to process everything, but their potential is immense. They could lead to real medical breakthroughs “, underlines Chantal Pichon.

You have 52.48% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.