Review Article

mRNA vaccines — a new era in vaccinology

  • Nature Reviews Drug Discovery volume 17, pages 261279 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/nrd.2017.243
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Abstract

mRNA vaccines represent a promising alternative to conventional vaccine approaches because of their high potency, capacity for rapid development and potential for low-cost manufacture and safe administration. However, their application has until recently been restricted by the instability and inefficient in vivo delivery of mRNA. Recent technological advances have now largely overcome these issues, and multiple mRNA vaccine platforms against infectious diseases and several types of cancer have demonstrated encouraging results in both animal models and humans. This Review provides a detailed overview of mRNA vaccines and considers future directions and challenges in advancing this promising vaccine platform to widespread therapeutic use.

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Acknowledgements

D.W. was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award numbers CHAVI-ID UM1-AI100645, R01-AI050484, R01-AI124429 and R01-AI084860, by Gates Foundation Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery (CAVD) grant OPP1033102, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under grant HR0011-17-2-0069 and by the New Frontier Sciences division of Takeda Pharmaceuticals. F.W.P. was supported by the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) grant UM1-AI100645, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant HR0011-17-2-0069 and by Gates Foundation grant OPP1066832. The authors acknowledge K. Karikó for her profoundly helpful advice.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.

    • Norbert Pardi
    • , Michael J. Hogan
    •  & Drew Weissman
  2. Duke Human Vaccine Institute, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.

    • Frederick W. Porter

Authors

  1. Search for Norbert Pardi in:

  2. Search for Michael J. Hogan in:

  3. Search for Frederick W. Porter in:

  4. Search for Drew Weissman in:

Competing interests

In accordance with the University of Pennsylvania policies and procedures and our ethical obligations as researchers, we report that Norbert Pardi, Michael J. Hogan and Drew Weissman are named on patents that describe the use of nucleoside-modified mRNA as a platform to deliver therapeutic proteins and vaccines. We have disclosed those interests fully to the University of Pennsylvania, and we have in place an approved plan for managing any potential conflicts arising from licensing of our patents. Frederick Porter reports no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Drew Weissman.

Glossary

Dendritic cell

(DC). A professional antigen-presenting cell that can potently activate CD4+ and CD8+ T cells by presenting peptide antigens on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and II molecules, respectively, along with co-stimulatory molecules.

Pathogen-associated molecular pattern

(PAMP). Conserved molecular structure produced by microorganisms and recognized as an inflammatory danger signal by various innate immune receptors.

Type I interferon

A family of proteins, including but not limited to interferon-β (IFNβ) and multiple isoforms of IFNα, released by cells in response to viral infections and pathogen products. Type I IFN sensing results in the upregulation of interferon-stimulated genes and an antiviral cellular state.

Fast protein liquid chromatography

(FPLC). A form of liquid chromatography that can be used to purify proteins or nucleic acids. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a similar approach, which uses high pressure to purify materials.

Nucleoside modification

The incorporation of chemically modified nucleosides, such as pseudouridine, 1-methylpseudouridine, 5-methylcytidine and others, into mRNA transcripts, usually to suppress innate immune sensing and/or to improve translation.

Adjuvant

An additive to vaccines that modulates and/or boosts the potency of the immune response, often allowing lower doses of antigen to be used effectively. Adjuvants may be based on pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) or on other molecules that activate innate immune sensors.

MHC class I

A polymorphic set of proteins expressed on the surface of all nucleated cells that present antigen to CD8+ (including cytotoxic) T cells in the form of proteolytically processed peptides, typically 8–11 amino acids in length.

MHC class II

A polymorphic set of proteins expressed on professional antigen-presenting cells and certain other cell types, which present antigen to CD4+ (helper) T cells in the form of proteolytically processed peptides, typically 11–30 amino acids in length.

Good manufacturing practice

(GMP). A collection of guidelines and practices designed to guarantee the production of consistently high-quality and safe pharmaceutical products. GMP-grade materials must be used for human clinical trials.

Passive immunization or passive immunotherapy

In contrast to traditional (active) vaccines, these therapies do not generate de novo immune responses but can provide immune-mediated protection through the delivery of antibodies or antibody-encoding genes. Passive vaccination offers the advantage of immediate action but at the disadvantage of high cost.