BPI Europe: Questions surround mRNA’s life beyond COVID-19

Messenger RNA (mRNA) might not become as dominant a modality as its COVID-19 success suggested, according to a senior consultant at Merck KGaA.

David Loong, senior consultant for novel modalities at Germany’s Merck, made the comments during a panel discussion at BPI Europe in Vienna, Austria this week.

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has “completely skewed” how mRNA could be applied, he said. With the likes of Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer releasing successful and respective vaccines, the application of mRNA technology was no longer focused predominately on therapeutics.

BPI Europe took lace in Vienna this week

While it is undeniable that mRNA has become a validated modality, Loong told delegates  that despite “non-viral methods being investigated [and] being looked at with every single application possible […] we might see the first few unsuccessful attempts, which might dampen the enthusiasm” towards the modality.

Though COVID-19 remains a lucrative market for companies such as Pfizer, which has predicted $32 billion of sales in 2022 from its vaccine alone, the firm also acknowledged that sales will drop compared to 2021. Loong said that when looking at the scenario for mRNA vaccines in general, the demand for them will decrease as the pandemic enters the endemic stage.

“It is a [double] edged sword when you bring in a new technology like mRNA, [which has] no living cells involved. In theory, you could do it entirely synthetically, but they also have complexity trying to recreate artificial packaging strategy. I don’t know if [mRNA] will take over, it will always be dependent on the velocity of development.”

However, Loong did emphasize that he is seeing “lots of early pipeline mRNA research,” but it is unclear how many will pass preclinical trials.

The successful mRNA developers are, however, confidently looking beyond COVID-19. Moderna, which has spent years developing potential mRNA therapies and vaccines for diseases ranging from cardiovascular to oncology, spoke recently about its eight combination vaccines and seven vaccines against latent viruses in its pipeline. Meanwhile BioNTech is developing mRNA vaccines against malaria and shingles, among others.