Over 150 different mRNA-based therapies and vaccines are currently being developed around the world. Is mRNA technology the new game-changer in medicine – or is it just hype?

For many years, mRNA technology seemed unsuitable as a therapeutic approach. But today, it is expected that in the future mRNA will be used to treat a wide range of diseases – including cancer, HIV, malaria, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. But how does it work exactly? mRNA vaccines transport the blueprint of a viral protein into cells which then begin to produce the foreign biomolecule. The immune system ramps up its defences against the virus, even though it only knows a small, harmless part of the pathogen. What sounds simple on paper is almost as complex as a landing on Mars in a living organism. Scientists started investigating mRNA a good three decades ago with the aim of developing individual therapies to treat cancer. Today, clinical studies are looking at how heart muscle regenerates immediately after a heart attack with an mRNA-based therapy. People with autoimmune diseases or HIV could also benefit from mRNA preparations and vaccines. Influenza viruses are constantly producing new strains. An mRNA vaccine could be adapted more quickly than conventional vaccines – and would therefore be more effective.