Synthetic mRNA drug advances

24 November 2022

Enhanced life span and efficiency of mRNA may reduce the dosage needed for mRNA drugs and vaccines and could lower the cost of treatments.

Biologists at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have made a discovery that could boost synthetic mRNA’s protein production efficiency as much as tenfold. That means improving the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines and drugs – ones that protect against illness and disease, including cancer, COVID-19 or other genetic diseases.

Manufacturers use mRNA technology to direct cells in making specific proteins, such as antigens, enzymes, and hormones to fight infections and regulate bodily functions. While mRNA may be a preferred option for vaccines and other therapies, high dosage and repeated injections are often required to generate sufficient protein in the body. Enhancing mRNA’s effectiveness has been a highly discussed idea amongst scientists, who posit that our immune system could work better with more of certain antibodies.

At HKUST, a team led by Professor Becki Kuang Yi devised a way to enhance both the life span and efficiency of mRNA. Having engineered different mRNA’s tail sequences, Kuang’s team optimised sequences that could produce three to ten times as much proteins compared with unoptimised tail sequences commonly used for synthetic mRNAs on both human cells and on mice. The duration of protein production is also doubled.

The optimized mRNA tail would protect it from immediate degradation and could stay in the cell for a longer time, increasing protein production efficiency by up to 10 times.

This new technology will not only reduce the amount and the number of injections needed for mRNA drugs and vaccines, but will also potentially lower the cost of treatments. It can also be used along with other mRNA enhancement technologies to boost protein production.

“Increasing the protein production of synthetic mRNA is generally beneficial to all mRNA drugs and vaccines,” Kuang said. “In collaboration with Sun Yat-Sen University, our team is now exploring the use of optimized tails for mRNA cancer vaccines on animal. We are also looking forward to collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to transfer this invention onto mRNA therapeutics and vaccines’ development pipelines to benefit society.”

The finding was recently published online in the journal of Molecular Therapy - Nucleic Acids.