The extraordinary Covid success with mRNA technology is going to spread. Research is already well underway for vaccines against "regular" influenza, but more importantly malaria and certain cancers.


"People rely on proteins for just about every bodily function; mRNA—which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid—tells our cells which proteins to make. With human-edited mRNA, we could theoretically commandeer our cellular machinery to make just about any protein under the sun. You could mass-produce molecules that occur naturally in the body to repair organs or improve blood flow. Or you could request our cells to cook up an off-menu protein, which our immune system would learn to identify as an invader and destroy. "

"In the case of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, mRNA vaccines send detailed instructions to our cells to make its distinctive “spike protein.” Our immune system, seeing the foreign intruder, targets these proteins for destruction without disabling the mRNA. Later, if we confront the full virus, our bodies recognize the spike protein again and attack it with the precision of a well-trained military, reducing the risk of infection and blocking severe illness.
But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. In mouse trials, synthetic-mRNA therapies have been shown to slow and reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis. “I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.”"