Moderna will develop mRNA vaccines for Ebola, malaria, other major threats

It’s also giving researchers around the world access to its vaccine development platform.

Moderna has announced plans to develop mRNA vaccines for 15 infectious diseases — and it’s giving researchers across the globe access to its technology to create their own shots for countless other diseases.

The priorities: Moderna was developing mRNA vaccines long before the first case of COVID-19, but when the pandemic hit, it got a chance to prove that its platform could be used to quickly produce a safe, highly effective vaccine in large quantities.

The COVID-19 shots were the first mRNA vaccines approved for use in people, and now that the tech has proven itself with the coronavirus, Moderna has set a goal of having mRNA vaccines for 15 other pathogens ready for clinical trials by 2025.

“These 15 pathogens have been known for a long time … but a lot of large pharmaceutical companies have not developed those vaccines.” 

Stéphane Bancel

The list of pathogens Moderna will prioritize includes malaria, Ebola, and tuberculosis. It won’t be starting from scratch, either — the company is already well into the process of developing mRNA vaccines for several of the target diseases, including HIV and Zika

“[These] 15 pathogens have been known for a long time — they have not fallen onto the planet in the last six weeks,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told reporters. “But a lot of large pharmaceutical companies have not developed those vaccines, and we just need to start.” 

Moderna’s other targets include MERS, a severe coronavirus that spilled over from camels in 2012; the mosquito-borne diseases dengue, Chikungunya, and Rift Valley fever; the deadly animal viruses Nipah, Lassa, and Hendra; the Ebola-like diseases Marbug and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever; and a tick-borne borne virus emerging in East Asia that causes severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS).

mRNA Access: The pathogens Moderna plans to focus on are huge threats to public health. Malaria, dengue, and TB currently infect hundreds of millions of people a year, killing millions. Others, like Ebola, Nipha, and MERS, have extremely high fatality rates and the potential to cause a pandemic.

But these are far from the only threats. Moderna doesn’t have the bandwidth to develop shots for every infectious disease, though, so it’s launching mRNA Access.

The program will give researchers who don’t work at Moderna the ability to use Moderna’s platform to develop mRNA vaccines for new and neglected diseases. Moderna can then use its facilities to manufacture and ship the vaccine candidates to researchers for testing within a few weeks, Bancel said.

“Other scientists will be able to access our standards and technology, almost as if they worked at Moderna.”

Stephen Hoge

Moderna plans to launch mRNA Access with a limited number of academic labs and then rapidly expand the program. The IP for any successful shot developed with the platform will be jointly owned by Moderna and the developers, and Moderna is prepared to finance trials of promising shots, if necessary.

“What we want to make sure happens is that scientists who have great ideas for how they could make vaccines will be able to access our standards and technology, almost as if they worked at Moderna,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge told Reuters.

“We want to make sure that we allow others to explore the space that frankly, we can’t get to,” he said. “And that’s really what this is about.”

The big picture: Though we don’t know the exact details of the mRNA Access program, it could be a win-win-win situation: vaccine researchers get access to cutting-edge mRNA tech, Moderna gets a piece of any shots that prove effective, and the world benefits from more mRNA vaccines.

It’s still too soon to know whether Moderna or its partners will be able to replicate the success of the COVID-19 vaccines with shots targeting other diseases, but if they can bring down even one of the pathogens on the priority list, the impact would be huge.

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