By Uwe Schoenbeck, PhD, SVP & chief scientific officer, Emerging Science & Innovation, Pfizer
For decades, mRNA therapeutics seemed more promise than reality. But Pfizer and BioNTech’s swift delivery of the world’s first mRNA-based vaccine for Covid-19 demonstrated mRNA’s viability as a versatile and flexible technology, while highlighting the vast scientific opportunity in front of us to harness its potential power to prevent or treat other diseases. As Pfizer’s chief scientific officer for Emerging Science & Innovation, I saw this landmark advancement unfold firsthand.
Along with continuing to study our Covid-19 vaccine, which remains a priority, at Pfizer we are looking at additional disease areas where we see potential for mRNA vaccines and therapeutics to potentially help us overcome historical challenges with treatment and prevention — including other infectious diseases, rare diseases, and certain cancers. There’s a strong foundation of knowledge to build on thanks to the work of teams of dedicated researchers over the years, and we’re continuing to pursue new applications for this technology in the hopes of developing breakthroughs to change patients’ lives.
Importantly, the Covid-19 vaccine wasn’t Pfizer’s first foray into mRNA. In addition to Pfizer’s internal research efforts in the mRNA space, we first teamed up with BioNTech in 2018 because we saw potential to develop an mRNA vaccine against influenza, which remains a significant global health challenge. An mRNA vaccine for flu could potentially allow for better strain match and greater reliability of supply — and, because of better strain match, we might improve efficacy, which could help prevent infections year to year. We recently initiated Phase 1 trials of our mRNA influenza vaccine program and have planned a wave of additional programs that will leverage mRNA technology to tackle flu.
The versatility of mRNA could also have a transformative impact in rare disease and oncology. For example, patients with rare diseases might be missing a protein or have an abnormal protein, errors which could potentially be “corrected” through delivery of an mRNA therapeutic (for example, through gene editing). In oncology, the power of mRNA could enable improved delivery of cancer-fighting proteins or even the ability to reprogram a patient’s immune cells to better fight their disease.
As we continue to pursue applications for mRNA technologies, the successful development of mRNA vaccines (including the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine) and their administration to hundreds of millions of people is a buoy for the field, validating the technology as we strive to realize its enormous potential to evolve the treatment landscape. We at Pfizer think that mRNA represents a frontier of healthcare, and we are committed to playing a leading role in the advancement of this technology. The work is far from over, but the last 18 months have given us a firsthand look at the transformative impact mRNA might have — and it is imperative that we continue to explore unlocking its power for the benefit of patients everywhere.
To learn more, visit Pfizer.com.