The power of mRNA technology

The US government’s “warp speed” aid to help pharmaceutical companies make COVID-19 vaccines has been an astonishing moonshot for science and civilization.

It became a small biotechnology company, Moderna MRNA, from posting sales of $ 60 million in 2019 to potentially $ 10 billion by 2021. Moderna, based in Cambridge MA, focuses on drug discovery, drug development and vaccine technologies based solely on messenger RNA (mRNA) platforms.

RNA (ribonucleic acid) are like the “instructions with orders” that make the DNA code reality. RNA molecules give cells specific instructions for making proteins, the building blocks of all life and metabolic systems.

To explain to my kids, I say DNA is the recipe book, but RNA is the chef that makes the magic happen.

Look ma! I have spikes, but no COVID!

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer PFE contains the genetic instructions for making the SARS-CoV-2 “spike” protein. This protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Moderna’s technology platform inserts synthetic, modified mRNA (modRNA) into human cells, which then display the protein peak on their surface. This mRNA insert that created the protein then essentially reprograms the cells to elicit immune responses.

In this way, mRNA vaccines teach our cells the recipe for making a protein that elicits the desired immune response – without injecting a live virus into the body.

Since the spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19, it’s almost as if that nasty coronavirus gave us an easy target to beat it – like an enemy flag telling us where and how to get them on each. moment.

We win without injecting live virus into the body, and once our cells follow the recipe’s instructions, our body’s immune system does its job and makes antibodies to fight off such future invaders it recognizes.

In addition, as Canadian Health Services says on its website, “After the piece of protein is made, the cell breaks the instructions and removes them.”

New approach to vaccines

Here’s how the CDC introduces the topic on their information page …

mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. To elicit an immune response, many vaccines introduce a weakened or inactivated germ into our body. No mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response in our body. That immune response, which produces antibodies, protects us from infection when the real virus enters our bodies.

In other words, instead of releasing a virus or viral protein, RNA vaccines provide genetic information that allows the body’s own cells to produce the antibodies with just a prescription.

Since mRNA vaccines don’t use the live virus that causes COVID-19, you can’t catch it through the injection. And while it sounds dangerous to make anything with DNA in our body, mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, where our DNA is protected.

So they do not affect our DNA in any way. The cell breaks down and removes the mRNA shortly after it is done with the instructions.

Faster, cheaper, better

According to Anne Trafton, writing for MIT News, “Most SARS-CoV-2 vaccines elicit an immune response that targets the coronavirus spike protein, which is found on the surface of the virus. Messenger RNA vaccines encode for segments of the spike protein, and those mRNA sequences are much easier to generate in the lab than the spike protein itself. “

In her Dec. 11 article Explained: Why RNA Vaccines for Covid-19 Raced to the Front of the Pack, Trafton explains that many years of research have enabled scientists to rapidly synthesize RNA vaccines and release them into cells. to deliver.

But it wasn’t always clear that this was going to happen. Since it was a new technique only a few years old, it was often abandoned due to the side effects of introducing mRNA into cells. Trafton continues …

“Developing and testing a new vaccine typically takes at least 12 to 18 months. But just over 10 months after the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was published, two pharmaceutical companies applied for FDA emergency use authorization. for vaccines that appear to be highly effective against the virus. “

Those two companies, as you now know, are Pfizer and Moderna. In late November, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, had shown preliminary evidence of 95% efficacy – even better than Pfizer’s vaccine – in preventing COVID-19 disease in a phase III study, with only one mild flu. such as side effects.

While Pfizer got through clinical trials faster and received FDA emergency use clearance (EUA) in Europe, the United States, and Canada, Moderna has its day of settlement on Thursday.

But so far, the “better, faster, cheaper” nature of MRNA-1273 has a risk profile that few investors should argue with. In the video accompanying this article, I describe the cooling requirements that make it superior to Pfizer’s offering.

And I will also discuss the platform’s rapid adaptability to mutations in the coronavirus. One thing we should all know for sure by now is that SARS and COVID won’t go away. As the world population of humans and animals increases, new diseases will be passed from human to human.

The Brief History of Warp Speed

Better news: nothing beats a crisis to foster innovation. We wouldn’t be talking about Moderna as a $ 60 billion company with $ 10 billion in expected sales without the COVID-19 pandemic trying to beat us.

In the video, I also take a whirlwind tour of what Moderna has accomplished to take on its bigger rival Pfizer in such an astonishingly short time. Admittedly, Moderna benefited from nearly $ 1 billion dollars in R&D support from the White House’s Operation Warp Speed ​​to successfully produce its vaccine.

But I don’t think most of us would want it any other way. We have spent orders of magnitude more over the past 80 years mobilizing military and space missions. So this drop in the bucket could bring a greater return to civilization than anyone can calculate.

From Wherece Moderna (courtesy of Wikipedia)

ModeRNA Therapeutics was founded in 2010 to commercialize stem cell biologist Derrick Rossi’s research. Rossi had developed a method to modify mRNA by first transfecting it into human cells and then dedifferentiating it into stem cells that could then be further redifferentiated into desired target cell types. Rossi approached Tim Springer, a Harvard University faculty member, who requested co-investment from Kenneth Chien, Bob Langer, and venture capital firm Flagship Ventures.

I don’t know much about these scientists, researchers or investors. But I do know that the man who led Operation Warp Speed ​​was on the Moderna board. While many cry over conflicts of interest, I am more interested in the man’s decades-long career leading drug development through regulatory gloves.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine division for 30 years and often referred to as the Tsar of President Trump’s coronavirus vaccine, announced in early December that Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines are safe, at only 10% to 15% of volunteers experienced “significantly noticeable” side effects. The side effects can last for up to a day and a half.

The efficacy and safety of both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are superior to traditional adenovirus candidates such as those from AstraZeneca AZN. (Moderna and AZN have an old partnership that I’ll explore in a future article.)

What is MRNA potentially worth?

In the video, I also discuss differing analyst views on what should pay for MRNA stock right now, and the vastly differing views on selling potential in the next 2-3 years. A downgrade this morning from Jefferie’s biopharma analyst Michael Yee shared the view that …

The share is among the best in the industry this year compared to a 54% gain for the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF XBI. “

Well, that explains it almost immediately there. You don’t have an index like the Nasdaq 100 or the Biotech Equal Weight 50% rise without some big guns in the lead. Even the big cap Nasdaq Biotech ETF IBB is up 28% YTD.

What few are talking about now is that Moderna’s meteoric rise will only help bolster the rest of the pipeline beyond coronaviruses. I’m talking of course about the potential for “cancer vaccines” where the mRNA platform can be used to defeat that nefarious destroyer of lives at the core.

I’ll be making next week’s video and article on that potential.

When I recorded this video and wrote the article on Wednesday the 16th, I decided that I am a Moderna investor under $ 140 again. We have made 40% profit in the stock before and I plan to do it again regardless what the FDA says tomorrow.

Disclosure: I own shares of MRNA for the Zacks Healthcare Innovators portfolio.

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