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University of Nebraska Medical Center

mRNA COVID vaccines saved lives and won a Nobel — what’s next for the technology?

Nature In just three short years, mRNA vaccines have saved millions of lives, achieved household recognition and, as of this week, become the subject of a Nobel Prize. Yet the field shows no signs of slowing down.

In the wake of the technology’s dramatic success in generating quick-turnaround COVID-19 vaccines, investors have poured billions of dollars into expanding mRNA’s therapeutic reach.

This influx of cash promises to fuel the research and infrastructure needed to deploy mRNA medicines in ways that could transform public health by tackling hard-to-treat infectious diseases, cancers and rare genetic disorders.

“The sky’s the limit,” says Matthias Stephan, an immunologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. “For whatever you want to correct, or whatever you want to treat, there could be an mRNA medicine — that’s the excitement.”

Nature spoke to researchers about mRNA medicines on the horizon.

Curbing outbreaks: when speed is of the essence

Vaccines based on mRNA rose to fame not only for their safety and efficacy, but also for the speed with which they were developed and rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approach allows researchers to have “a very potently effective vaccine in arms within weeks”, says Barney Graham, who helped to develop one of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines while at the US National Institutes of Health. (Graham now serves as senior adviser for global health equity at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.)

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