Würzburg microbiologist Jörg Vogel is pleased that mRNA is on everyone’s lips today, because mRNA-based drugs have been used successfully in the fight against Covid-19. “It’s a new kind of medicine,” Vogel points out. It is difficult to compare with other breakthroughs in medical research, such as the invention of penicillin.
mRNA is more than a vaccine. The three letters stand for ribonucleic acid. Life on earth may even have started with this biomolecule. The corresponding theory speaks of an RNA world from which the DNA world emerged. Vaccination against the corona virus has allowed mRNA to make a breakthrough in medicine. Until now, however, researchers have devoted most of their work to cancer research.
According to Vogel, basic research has already looked into the fact that these possibilities have existed in principle with mRNA for 20 or 30 years. Corona has now made a breakthrough and several companies like Biontech or Moderna have committed to the principle. The approval of these first vaccines and drugs showed that the next diseases could also be fought.
mRNA can be produced very well and easily in the lab, says Vogel. “It’s a programmable drug, that’s the best way to call it,” he says. “They have a problem and they’re programming a drug to find the solution.”
According to Vogel, the possible applications of mRNA are very different, also outside the corona vaccine, for example in the metabolic disease cystic fibrosis. The application becomes more difficult the deeper you have to penetrate the fabric. Once vaccinated against Covid-19, the drug is injected into a muscle. “It’s relatively easy to get there,” says Vogel.
In diseases of the immune system, where blood or immune cells are used, the application is also relatively possible. But as soon as you have to penetrate deep tissues or repair an entire organ, it becomes more difficult. “But it is not impossible.”
“As with any drug, there are limits,” says the researcher. They must be clearly named. Introducing a replacement protein only works temporarily. If you discover a genetic defect and want to fix it, you cannot do so permanently, but only as long as the mRNA is in the body. “Of course, this also limits effectiveness.”
On the other hand, the drug can be better dosed and the risks better assessed.
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