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Moderna Funding University Immunology Research

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(Blue Diamond Gallery)

27 Sept. 2019. A biotechnology enterprise is financing a collaboration with Harvard Medical School that aims to discover new mechanisms for treating immune system disorders. For this joint research project, Moderna Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is providing the university an initial $3.65 million and access to the company’s messenger RNA and nanoparticle drug delivery platforms.

Moderna develops therapeutic proteins with a technology that synthesizes messenger RNA, a nucleic acid based on the genetic code from DNA, and used by cells to produce the amino acids in proteins for cellular functions. Moderna manipulates the coding region in the messenger RNA chemistry to provide instructions for cells to produce proteins with specific therapeutic properties. Those coding instructions are contained in a standard package that appears in most cases like natural RNA to avoid triggering an immune response, and reach the desired cells where the therapeutic protein is needed.

For some treatments, such as antibodies for cancer or infectious diseases, Moderna is testing delivery of messenger RNA with lipid or natural oil nanoscale particles. The company says its lipid nanoparticle technology can be particularly useful for delivering messenger RNA to immune system cells, such as T- and B-cells, white blood cells. As a result, as many as 10 to 20 percent of these immune-system cells can be reprogrammed for targeted therapies, says Moderna, compared to about 1 percent of T-cell clones captured today.

Moderna is establishing at Harvard Medical School the Alliance for RNA Therapies for the Modulation of the Immune System, or Artimis, to share and advance its messenger RNA and nanoparticle delivery technologies. For Artimis, the company is providing an initial $1.2 million to underwrite basic research, as well as giving university researchers access to Moderna’s current systems and materials. The joint research is expected to investigate fundamental immune-system processes, develop a better understanding of immune disease progression, and discover new methods for diagnosing, preventing, and treating immune-related diseases.

The company is also funding studies into messenger RNA and its influence on immune cells in blood and tissue. This research is conducted by Ulrich von Andrian, professor of immunopathology at Harvard Medical School, and a scientific advisor to Moderna. The company is supporting up to $2.45 million for research led by von Andrian on the ability of messenger RNA, or mRNA, to affect the migration of immune cells from blood to tissue. At a company symposium in May 2019, von Andrian presented data on the importance immune cell traffic in immune-system responses, with implications for new treatments in cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and autoimmune diseases.

“Harvard University and its affiliated medical institutions are leaders in advancing basic and translational science to better understand the biological mechanisms of these complex disorders,” says Moderna president Stephen Hoge in a joint statement. “We believe that combining our technical capabilities in mRNA delivery with Harvard Medical School’s expertise in immunology will lead to innovative therapies with the potential to make a significant impact on people’s lives.”

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