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Battle Over Messenger RNA Technology

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The use of messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines to prevent infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus marks a revolution in vaccine production. Compared to traditional approaches, mRNA vaccines can be made quickly and easily. But this is just part of the story. This revolution actually started years ago with efforts to develop vaccines against the Zika and Ebola viruses. 

Lack of funding and the state of technology at the time meant it took years to develop these drugs, but the experience with Zika and Ebola greatly benefitted the development of COVID-19 vaccines, as the money and resources invested in mRNA technology enabled today’s rapid response against the current pandemic.

These efforts have also created a vast infrastructure that will not only enhance vaccine development moving forward, but also allow diversification of the use of mRNA technology. It has been suggested we could retarget this approach to address nonviral problems, as it could potentially be used to replace or supplement proteins, guide induction of pluripotent stem cells, or assist delivery of designer nucleases for genome engineering. It has the potential to be used to treat cystic fibrosis, heart disease, rare genetic conditions, selected cancers, seasonal influenza, and a host of other problems. 

THERE WILL BE INDIVIDUAL RESISTANCE TO UTILIZE SOME — ORALL — OF THESE THERAPIES

As should be expected, not all therapies will be successful. In January 2021, CureVac reported disappointing results in a clinical trial of its new mRNA-based drug for prostate cancer. Their CV9014 drug did not boost survival rates of men with metastatic prostate cancer or halt the disease’s progression — the two primary goals of the study. It should be expected that new uses of mRNA will evolve over time, and it is likely that progress will be erratic. Roadblocks include lack of funding and patient selection for needed studies, as well as the willingness of drug companies and institutions to run them. 

Even after successful testing, another significant problem will persist. As we have seen with COVID-19 vaccines, there will be individual resistance to utilize some — or all — of these therapies. These individuals have cited lack of trust in the government and science as the primary reason for treatment refusal. This will lead to the development of two classes of patients — those who enjoy the benefit of new technologies, and those who do not. Individuals who choose not to use these new therapies will almost assuredly experience the negative consequences of their inaction.

Many government agencies, the military, and private industry are now requiring their personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo frequent testing. This places increased pressure on individuals who choose not to participate. In some cases, non-vaxxers are being denied access to work, travel and social events. The pushback on both sides has been fierce. 

The battle is now joined, and it will likely have a significant impact on our country’s future and that of our children.

Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

From Decisions in Dentistry. December 2021;7(11)5.

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