The news was a sensation: within a very short time, Biontech and its US partner Pfizer achieved the breakthrough in research into a corona vaccine. The Mainz-based company had its active ingredient approved in less than a year. Never before has a serum been developed so quickly. The record is four years for the mumps vaccine. Biontech apparently wants to maintain this pace – and is already working on a comprehensive therapy against autoimmune diseases.
In the current issue of “Sience”, the company founders Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin report that they have already been able to contain the progression of multiple sclerosis in experiments on mice. In some cases, they have even been able to reverse induced paralysis. To do this, they examined various models for autoimmune diseases of the central nervous system. “It is conceivable that the method could also be used for other autoimmune diseases, such as juvenile diabetes,” says Şahin.
Milestone in the development of future vaccines
Beate Kampmann, Director of the Center for Vaccines at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is impressed by the potential of the mRNA technology platform used. “When you see how easily adjustments can be made with this plug-and-play technology,” she tells the magazine “Spiegel”. “Then you have to see them as a milestone in the development of future vaccines.”
With the help of mRNA technology, viral but harmless proteins are produced in our body during a Covid-19 vaccination. Cells in our body present the antigen on their surface and trigger an immune response. If the body then comes into contact with the virus, our immune system recognizes the specific antigen and can thus fight the infection in a targeted manner.
Türeci and Şahin are not the only scientists in the field. According to “Spiegel”, they are so far ahead because they have developed a certain basic structure for the mRNA molecules. In addition, their mRNA molecules are wrapped in wafer-thin layers of fat before they are injected so that they can reach the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow. There they are taken up by cells that are important for immunity.
Trials on patients with black skin cancer are positive
Based on this construction method, Biontech can quickly manufacture various vaccines. If the virus mutates, as has already happened, the researchers can quickly adapt their version. The mRNA technology also seems to work in the fight against cancer. According to the “Spiegel”, clinical trials on patients with black skin cancer are promising.
Attempts to cure autoimmune diseases with mRNA molecules, according to Şahin, can possibly be tested in humans for the first time in two to three years. About eight percent of the world’s population suffers from it. Meanwhile, there is a good chance that there will be more progress. “The production of mRNA will become easier, faster, cheaper and more widely available,” says Şahin.