Pfizer touts mRNA as alternative to current flu vaccines

Pfizer says its mRNA-based influenza program, in collaboration with BioNTech, has potential to succeed current vaccination technologies.

With influenza causing 650,000 global deaths every year, developing a more flexible and accurate vaccine is in the interest of global health.

Last September, Pfizer initiated a Phase III study of its messenger RNA (mRNA) based flu vaccine, following a 2018 partnership with a then little-know German biotech BioNTech.

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In 2020, both BioNTech and mRNA were thrown into the global spotlight due a successful COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech in just nine months.

Now Pfizer is leveraging a similar approach to mRNA beyond COVID through a roadmap that aims to reduce bureaucracy and increase collaboration.

According to Pfizer’s VP of mRNA Commercial Strategy & Innovation and Global Pandemic Security Lead Jane True speaks, mRNA-based vaccines have the ability to replace current technologies in the long-term.

Speaking with Informa Connect’s Lottie Leinfellner ahead of the virtual event Influenza mRNA Vaccines,True focuses on the lessons learned from the pandemic and the need for preparedness. “If one person is sick in the whole world then the rest of us are at risk,” she says. “Now is the time for vigilance.”

Pfizer’s mRNA tech

The influenza mRNA program is designed to provide an alternative approach to current egg-based influenza vaccines.

Conventionally, influenza vaccine development involves growing the virus of interest in chicken eggs. The virus is then inactivated and processed into a vaccine. This approach faces challenges such as updating vaccines to keep up with influenza strain changes, and generally only offers 40-60% protection against circulating strains.

Pfizer’s program involves the development of a quadrivalent nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) vaccine candidate, designed to target four influenza strains recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine only requires the genetic sequence of the influenza virus and provides a more flexible approach in which the mRNA can be replaced with the gene of interest.

The flexibility of this approach could potentially allow better strain matches and improved protection against influenza.

Additionally, due to the rapid manufacturing of mRNA technology this could allow for the rapid, large-scale manufacturing of vaccines for future influenza pandemics, says Pfizer.

The program is supported through a partnership with Codex DNA, which allows Pfizer access to Codex’s enzymatic DNA synthesis technology. This could further accelerate mRNA manufacturing by moving from biologic to synthetic DNA, therefore, reducing mRNA vaccine production time.

To catch Pfizer’s presentation on mRNA technology and pandemic preparedness, sign up here.