BioNTech CEO Applies COVID-19 Vaccine mRNA Technology to Multiple Sclerosis


The mRNA of the new vaccine technology is making waves these days, as COVID-19 injections based on it offer efficacy unmatched by other platforms. One of the successful plans, Comirnaty (BNT162b2), was developed with technology from BioNTech and is being rolled out in the US and EU.

Now, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, MD, Ph.D. has led new research showing that an mRNA vaccine could also work in multiple sclerosis (MS).

In several mouse models of MS, Sahin’s team showed that an mRNA vaccine encoding a disease-related autoantigen successfully improved MS symptoms in sick animals and prevented disease progression in rodents with early signs of MS. The results were published in Science.

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MS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Existing treatments work by systematically suppressing the immune system. This can control MS, but it also makes patients vulnerable to infections.

Sahin, together with colleagues at BioNTech and scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, hypothesized that an mRNA vaccine could work in a targeted fashion to help the immune system tolerate specific proteins related to MS without compromising normal immune function.

The team has developed an mRNA candidate that encompasses the genetic information encoding autoantigens responsible for MS in fatty substances. A similar lipid nanoparticle is used in Comirnaty to protect mRNA material from COVID-19 until it reaches target cells, where it produces the antigenic protein.

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In mice with autoimmune encephalomyelitis, a model of human MS, the team found that the vaccine was processed by lymphoid antigen presenting cells without triggering a systemic inflammatory immune response, even when given to very high antigen concentrations. It did not alter the animals’ ability to initiate a protective immune response.

The vaccine blocked all clinical signs of MS in mice, while control animals exhibited typical symptoms of the disease. In mice who started the mRNA vaccine when small signs of disease such as tail paralysis were noted, treatment prevented disease progression and restored motor functions, the team reported.

In treated mice, researchers observed lower levels of infiltrating and antigen-specific CD4 + T cells in the brain and spinal cord, and T cells in the spleen showed low expression of certain markers that are essential so that immune cells can enter. the central nervous system.

In addition, the treatment led to the expansion of regulatory T cells, or Treg cells. This is important because MS is a complex disease in which specific self-antigens may differ from patient to patient. But Treg cells offer more general “bystander tolerance,” which suppresses T cells against other antigens in inflamed tissue, the researchers explain in the article.

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MRNA technology is hailed as a revolution in the field of vaccines. Comirnaty, Pfizer’s partner of BioNTech, demonstrated 95% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 in its Phase 3 trial, leading industry observer to predict success will “open the floodgates” of the application of mRNA, especially in infectious diseases.

Sahin originally founded BioNTech to translate the idea of ​​mRNA into cancer immunotherapy, but the company rose to the challenge of COVID-19 amid the pandemic. Today, Sahin and his colleagues believe their research shows mRNA vaccines also hold promise in the treatment of MS.

As COVID-19 has shown, mRNA vaccines can be designed quickly, and mRNA can encode virtually any autoantigen. “Thus, tailoring of treatment for pathogenic antigens of individual patients is conceivable, similar to that which has been performed successfully in the context of personalized cancer vaccines,” the researchers wrote in the study. Combining mRNAs could help control even more complex autoimmune diseases, they suggested.

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