Many know of Francis Crick and James Watson’s Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work at Cambridge University explaining the helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). They were not the only researchers involved. At nearby King’s College, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins used X-rays to capture the structure of the DNA molecule. Wilkins showed Franklin’s findings to Watson without her knowledge, and the rest is history.
Almost 70 years later, Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) is using the messenger RNA (mRNA) that carries the genetic code from DNA into the cell to create a vaccine for a global pandemic. There is more to the company than the COVID-19 vaccine, and if its method can be proven, an entirely new field of medicine could dominate how we treat and prevent diseases over the next 70 years.
The company compares mRNA to software for the cell, claiming that if it works for one disease, it may work for many more. As our world becomes more automated, it would make sense if creating software for our bodies could help keep them running better. The key challenges to overcome for developing this type of instructions for the body are getting them into the right cells without being attacked by the immune system and convincing the cells that the instructions were created naturally so they can be interpreted and activated.
Moderna has a broad pipeline of candidates, as one would expect. With a platform that essentially rewrites genetic instructions, the applications are almost limitless. In addition to developing vaccines for influenza and COVID-19, the pipeline contains treatments for ailments as varied as heart failure, autoimmune disorders, tumors associated with multiple cancers, and hepatitis. Although the company has yet to have a drug approved, the deluge of resources to stem a global pandemic could be the catalyst that helps the company prove its approach. If it succeeds, Moderna may own the “operating system” for medicine in the future.