The future of mRNA vaccines

Loved Emily Oster’s interview with the CEO of Moderna.  Lots of greats stuff in here.  I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the future of mRNA vaccines:

Emily Oster  

Last thing!  I know you were working on a lot of stuff prior to this which was not COVID. What is the most exciting next virus that you’re fixing?

Stephane Bancal  

So there are two that I will draw to your attention. One is the flu. As you know, the flu kills 30,000 to 60,000 Americans a year, depending on how bad the strain mutation is. Efficacy of the flu vaccine is 60% in a good year, in a bad year 25 to 30%.  We believe with the mRNA, because of the speed at which we can follow up a variant of flu (“seasonal strains” they are called, but it’s the same thing as a variant) we can get the world 90 to 95% efficacy flu vaccine. 

And our next exciting thing, which is going to be in the clinic very soon, is to do a study for flu. This will go very fast because flu is a very well known virus. Our goal is to combine in a single dose a variant boost of COVID and a variant boost of flu. In a single dose, you get at your CVS or primary care doctor every year, and you have a great winter with no flu, no COVID, and you’re a happy lady. 

The next one is CMV. It’s a very poorly known virus. Cytomegalovirus is the number one cause of birth defects in this country and many countries in the world: 1 in 200 kids.  The industry has tried for 20 years to make a CMV vaccine. They all failed, because it is a very complex virus. We have a vaccine that is going into phase three as we speak: Six mRNA molecules in each vial to make six different proteins, because it is such a complex virus. The data so far looks beautiful. 

What we hope is to get this to the finish line in a few years. The study will take a few years to enroll and to wait for natural infection like in any vaccine study. But what I’m hoping for is we’re going to get a high efficacy vaccine, which we’re all thinking will happen because of the science.  Then women 16-plus before getting pregnant get vaccinated, so that if they get infected during their pregnancy, they won’t transmit to their baby and they will not have babies with birth defects. 

I’m so passionate about this one. You know, I really believe every woman should get that option to get that vaccine. You know, I have two young girls — 18 and 17. And I really want the vaccine to be launched soon because I really want them to get it before they get pregnant. 

Cool!  Let’s hope this all works out as Bancal projects.  And to think, even a few months ago I had never heard of CMV and it’s a big deal as viruses go.  The technology we’ve unleashed in response to Covid is truly amazing and is going to do us a world of good down the road.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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