Huge support for mRNA vaccines targeting ‘disease X’

Scientists in Marburg are testing procedures for the production of BioNTech's mRNA Covid vaccines, a major pandemic success story - Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency

Scientists in Marburg are testing procedures for the production of BioNTech’s mRNA Covid vaccines, a major pandemic success story – Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency

A multi-million cash injection has been given to efforts to develop next-generation mRNA vaccines that can target Disease X, a yet unknown pathogen with pandemic potential.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) has announced that it has raised $2 million (£1.64 million) in funding for Tiba Biotech, an American pharmaceutical company with promising new RNA technology that is cheaper, more effective, and triggers fewer side effects.

The development of mRNA vaccines was a huge success story during Covid, with billions of doses administered worldwide. But scientists are racing to develop new and improved vaccines that offer “significant advantages” in combating Disease X, current or emerging pathogens that have the potential to trigger the next pandemic.

Existing mRNA vaccines need to be kept at very low temperatures, making their distribution difficult in some low-income countries and they are reactogenic – that is, they produce mild side effects, including fever or minor reactions in some patients.

With a history of supporting successful vaccine candidates, Cepi relies on Tiba Biotech’s technology to solve some of these problems.

Current mRNA vaccines encapsulate the slip of the mRNA code, the molecules that stimulate human cells to make Sars-Cov-2 antibodies and trigger a protective immune response, in lipid nanoparticles, tiny fat balls that protect fragile genetic instructions as they are transmitted to cells. .

However, these fat balls are mildly inflamed, which contributes to localized side effects. Tiba Biotech is developing an alternative delivery route: biodegradable RNA nanoparticles that do not need to be coated with lipids.

The company believes they can be stored in the refrigerator for as long as four degrees, ending the need for ultra-cold cold chain infrastructure, which has limited use in some regions.

He also says that organic molecules are potentially less inflammatory, which can improve their performance and reduce side effects.

Cepi’s CEO, Dr Richard Hatchett, said that while mRNA vaccines have provided “a revolution in vaccine science” during the pandemic, “there is significant room for improvement to make the technology more effective and accessible”.

“We are excited about Tiba Biotech’s nanoparticle approach, which we think can reduce adverse reactions and improve the thermostability of mRNA vaccines,” he added. “Such advantages will facilitate the use of mRNA vaccines and potentially increase their accessibility and acceptability in many countries.”

The latest seed funding will be used to support the design, development and preclinical evaluation of a vaccine candidate for Japanese encephalitis, a brain infection spread by mosquitoes.

If the data produced are successful, the collaboration could be expanded to develop vaccines against potentially pandemic pathogens or “Disease X”. This is part of Cepi’s $3.5 billion plan to build a library of prototype vaccines so that if new threatening diseases emerge, vaccines can be developed and made available quickly.

“This is the first focus [Japanese encephalitis] Tiba Biotech’s co-founder and Chief Scientist Dr.

“We are confident that our collaboration with Cepi will demonstrate the unique advantages of our delivery platform in producing safe and effective mRNA vaccines for the global community.”

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