Blog | January 25, 2023

Metaphorical mRNA: An Argument For (More) Creativity In RNA Therapeutics

Source: Cell & Gene Collaborative
Anna Rose Welch Headshot

By Anna Rose Welch, Editorial & Community Director, Advancing RNA


As a writer and science communicator, I’m particularly drawn to the stories we can and should be telling today about the scientific, therapeutic, and business potential of mRNA and RNA long before there’s an actual therapy that patients can hold in their hands.

A great example of this was a 2022 TED Talk by Moderna’s Melissa Moore. If you haven’t checked out “How mRNA medicine will change the world,” be sure to give it a quick watch. Moore’s often poetic presentation is a solid overview of the technology that helped return our daily lives to some semblance of normal post-pandemic. We should also be celebrating the fact that Moore’s video on mRNA — formerly overlooked, unappreciated mRNA — ranked number 8 of the Top 10 TED Talks of 2022.  

It was this fact that gave me pause as we approached the recent holiday season and new year. The mRNA space has many challenges ahead of it; look no farther than this recent Cell & Gene Collaborative Q&A, and this Life Science Leader magazine feature, both of which showcase four experts’ predictions and areas of concern across the RNA therapeutics space.

But as I put together my own mRNA outlook presentation for the 2022 AGC Biologics CDMO Summit in November, I realized there is another opportunity that should be top of mind for the industry in the years to come. We all, regardless of our functional area in the industry (i.e., manufacturing, quality, R&D, commercial), need to figure out how we can make this important science more accessible to populations around the world.

The general population today may not necessarily be clamoring to ask the industry, “How else can we interact with mRNA?” But as we continue farther down the path toward the clinic with mRNA therapeutics and next-generation RNA modalities, we should be striving to answer this question for patients today — regardless of whether patients are asking or not. 

After all, we’re at a pivotal point in the field. Thanks to the pandemic, mRNA has become a household name. Given the popularity of Moore’s Ted Talk, it clearly remains a topic of great interest.

In the industry, companies are garnering investments; high-profile partnerships are being forged between Big Pharma and biotechs; and the supportive infrastructure/supply chain is advancing slowly but surely. In addition to improving the deliverability, tolerability, and durability of linear mRNA, the industry is exploring how other RNA modalities may be better equipped to carry out some of our long-term therapeutic goals. And though there is room for many different types of cell and gene therapies, I personally love mRNA because of its presumed scientific and therapeutic versatility. My thoughts were best summed up in this interview declaring mRNA a “perfect storm” because of its “potential to unlock the therapeutic potential of other science” (i.e., in vivo cell therapy, in vivo gene editing).

In other words, there’s a lot of scientific and commercial potential which we as an industry are striving to clarify. There’s also a lot of uncertainty; we have a lot of work ahead of us to demonstrate clinically that mRNA and other RNA modalities have a rightful place in the therapeutic realm. As the story goes in drug discovery and development, we will no doubt be met with failure in many cases. But we still need to be preparing today to make sure patients one day are asking for/about any of our future products that emerge triumphantly on the market. We need to be making a more concerted effort to unite these complicated scientific stories, opportunities, and (hopefully eventual) realities into a common, shared language across the industry’s many functional areas (i.e., R&D, manufacturing, commercial) and the broader public.

There are a couple of ways I see us as industry members become more aligned. These include the publication of mRNA/RNA-specific regulatory guidance, the proliferation of mRNA-specific conferences, and more frequent industry/regulator/trade group working sessions (e.g., like this ARM/ASGCT potency event). I also appreciate seeing “best practice” posts on LinkedIn from CMC experts — like this one — emphasizing the importance of not just letting the data do the talking.

It goes without saying that resource-strapped biotechs have their hands full ensuring the science “works.” As such, communication efforts tend to get put on the back burner until a company nears commercialization — or communication remains limited to investment pitch decks and marketing-heavy copy, neither of which are the most accessible or trustworthy educational materials.

To better reach the general public, it’s never too early to find non-academic/peer-reviewed ways of communicating and showcasing the different RNA modalities and the work that goes into the R&D, manufacturing/quality, and commercialization of them. In addition to Moore’s Ted Talk, I also appreciated Pfizer’s educational series on mRNA and LNPs: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

We’re often urged to keep the end in sight from the beginning of development to ensure we are efficiently manufacturing and supplying a market. However, the same is true for educating your future patients and their doctors long before they’re faced with your therapy.

In 2023, I’m hopeful that my past and future efforts to bring a “common language” to mRNA will create important connections and speak to members of the industry (and perhaps to some members of the general population, as well). One new way I’ll be doing this is by launching a creative video project that has literally been a year in the making.

I’m excited to share the official “trailer” for this series here, with a new video queued up for promotion the first Wednesday of every month for the first half of 2023. Episode one is officially "live" and can be watched here: Harry Potter meets mRNA!

For the more impatient among us, check out article one and article two, which serve as a few teasers of what else is to come.