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Moderna Developing Flu, HIV, Nipah Vaccines

Syringe and three vials

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

11 Jan. 2021. Moderna Inc., developer of a currently authorized Covid-19 vaccine, is expanding its vaccine pipeline to cover three more common infectious viral diseases. The Cambridge, Massachusetts company says it’s adapting its messenger RNA technology for vaccines to protect against or treat seasonal flu, HIV, and Nipah virus infections.

Moderna develops vaccines and therapies against infectious diseases with a technology that synthesizes messenger RNA, a nucleic acid based on the genetic code from DNA, and used by cells to produce amino acids in proteins for cellular functions. Moderna manipulates the coding region in messenger RNA chemistry to provide instructions for cells to produce proteins with specific medicinal properties. For protective vaccines, Moderna delivers messenger RNA, or mRNA, with instructions for cells to produce proteins with enough resemblance to viruses to generate an immune response, but are still safe for the recipient.

“Even as we have shown that our mRNA-based vaccine can prevent Covid-19,” says Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO in a company statement, “this has encouraged us to pursue more-ambitious development programs within our prophylactic vaccines modality. Today we are announcing three new vaccine programs addressing seasonal flu, HIV and the Nipah virus, some of which have eluded traditional vaccine efforts, and all of which we believe can be addressed with our mRNA technology.”

Three seasonal flu and two HIV vaccine candidates

For seasonal flu, Moderna is preparing three candidates to protect against combinations of influenza A and B strains, as recommended each year by World Health Organization. The company cites data showing about 8 percent of the U.S. population experiences flu symptoms each year, leading to as many as 810,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths. Moderna expects to begin a clinical trial for the seasonal flu vaccine later this year. The company is also exploring a combination vaccine for influenza, SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus, and human metapneumovirus that can lead to to bronchitis or pneumonia.

Moderna’s two HIV candidates are designed to invoke neutralizing antibodies from the immune system, using two different approaches. HIV, according to the company affects some 38 million people worldwide and 1.2 million in the U.S., leading to 690,000 global deaths from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. One of the HIV vaccine candidates code-named mRNA-1644 is being developed with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The second HIV candidate, mRNA-1574, is being prepared with National Institutes of Health. Moderna expects clinical trials for each HIV vaccine candidate to begin later this year.

Nipah virus is a zoonotic microbe, one that is transmitted between animals and humans. Fruit bats are natural hosts of the nipah virus, but the virus is also spread by pigs and contaminated food. Farmers, particularly in Asia, are susceptible to Nipah virus infections with a case fatality rate of 40 to 75 percent, and World Health Organization includes the disease in its 2018 research and development blueprint. Moderna’s Nipah virus candidate, code-named mRNA-1215 is also co-developed with NIH.

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