Developing modern vaccines against an underrecognised foe

Messenger RNA (mRNA) may be the ‘skeleton key’ that unlocks the door to fight latent viral infections that have plagued researchers for generations. Dr Sandeep Basnet, Director, Clinical Development at Moderna Therapeutics explores modern vaccine development and why mRNA is taking centre stage.

Vaccines have eliminated and limited the severity of diseases formerly prevalent around the world. Today, many of us do not worry about polio, smallpox or measles due to childhood vaccination and subsequent immunity. These viruses, which once caused widespread panic, have been quelled by modern medicine.

However, not all viruses are created equal. Viruses that can establish latency or dormant infection after the initial infection are different in nature and have long troubled those who study vaccine development. The types of viruses capable of latency are mainly DNA viruses and following infection, the virus stays in the body for life and can lead to lifelong medical complications.1 Latent viral infections usually do not cause noticeable symptoms initially and may stay dormant for long periods of time before becoming active again.2 These quiet, underrecognised viruses are particularly worrisome because they can hide for years before striking again, leaving immune systems unprepared and increasing the chance of spreading the virus to others.