mRNA vaccine makers set sights on shingles and the Epstein-Barr virus
More advances on the mRNA vaccine front this week as both Pfizer and Moderna move forward on new viral targets for future vaccines. Pfizer is turning its focus to shingles while Moderna has begun human trials for a mRNA vaccine against the Epstein-Barr Virus.
Shingles is a painful viral disease caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After one is initially infected with the virus it often remains dormant and can reactivate decades later. Around one in three people will experience shingles in their lifetime.
In a new announcement Pfizer will again join forces with mRNA developer BioNTech, this time focusing on the development of a mRNA shingles vaccine. Pfizer notably joined up with BioNTech in early 2020 to accelerate development of BioNTech's mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which subsequently became the first vaccine of its type to reach the general public.
“Pfizer and BioNTech co-developed the world’s first mRNA vaccine, providing a well-tolerated and effective tool to help address COVID-19 – the most devastating pandemic in a century – and demonstrating consistent, agile and high-quality manufacturing on an unprecedented scale,” explains Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten. “With this agreement, we continue on our journey of discovery together, by advancing mRNA technology to tackle another health challenge ripe for scientific innovation, supported by our world-class manufacturing network.”
The two companies are currently still in preclinical stages of development and clinical trials testing the mRNA shingles vaccine in humans are expected to begin in the second half of 2022.
Moderna, the other pioneering mRNA vaccine developer, has turned its sights on the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a common viral infection in adolescents that can lead to a disease known as mononucleosis. Epstein-Barr infections can also lead to persistent lifelong chronic illness, heightened risk of multiple sclerosis and EBV has been implicated in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
"EBV is one of the most common viral infections in the world, and despite the fact that it causes infectious mononucleosis, which impacts millions of adolescents globally, no vaccine is currently available,” says Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. “Adolescents who develop infectious mononucleosis are frequently absent from school for weeks and even months at a time, impacting the quality of their education and their families.”
Moderna’s EBV mRNA vaccine has already moved though preclinical work, with four specific glycoproteins targeted as effective antigens for the immune system to identify. An announcement from the company reveals the first human in Phase 1 clinical trials has been dosed with the vaccine. Up to 270 participants are expected to be enrolled in this early-stage trial over the coming months testing the safety and tolerability of the experimental vaccine.
Moderna’s current developmental focus seems to be mostly targeting what are known as latent viruses. These are viruses that can remain dormant in a body for years after an initial infection and subsequently play a role in many chronic health conditions.
Alongside EBV, Moderna is working on mRNA vaccines targeting HIV and cytomegaloviruses, a genus of herpes virus that can be particularly harmful to young children and babies. A recent announcement from the company revealed disappointing preliminary data from its human trial testing a mRNA vaccine for influenza.