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      mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases: principles, delivery and clinical translation


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          Over the past several decades, messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have progressed from a scepticism-inducing idea to clinical reality. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic catalysed the most rapid vaccine development in history, with mRNA vaccines at the forefront of those efforts. Although it is now clear that mRNA vaccines can rapidly and safely protect patients from infectious disease, additional research is required to optimize mRNA design, intracellular delivery and applications beyond SARS-CoV-2 prophylaxis. In this Review, we describe the technologies that underlie mRNA vaccines, with an emphasis on lipid nanoparticles and other non-viral delivery vehicles. We also overview the pipeline of mRNA vaccines against various infectious disease pathogens and discuss key questions for the future application of this breakthrough vaccine platform.


          The COVID-19 pandemic has established mRNA vaccines as a rapid, effective and safe approach for the protection of individuals from infectious disease. Here, Whitehead and colleagues review the principles of mRNA vaccine design, synthesis and delivery, assessing recent progress and key issues in the development of mRNA vaccines for a range of infectious diseases.

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          Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine

          Abstract Background Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and the resulting coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) have afflicted tens of millions of people in a worldwide pandemic. Safe and effective vaccines are needed urgently. Methods In an ongoing multinational, placebo-controlled, observer-blinded, pivotal efficacy trial, we randomly assigned persons 16 years of age or older in a 1:1 ratio to receive two doses, 21 days apart, of either placebo or the BNT162b2 vaccine candidate (30 μg per dose). BNT162b2 is a lipid nanoparticle–formulated, nucleoside-modified RNA vaccine that encodes a prefusion stabilized, membrane-anchored SARS-CoV-2 full-length spike protein. The primary end points were efficacy of the vaccine against laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 and safety. Results A total of 43,548 participants underwent randomization, of whom 43,448 received injections: 21,720 with BNT162b2 and 21,728 with placebo. There were 8 cases of Covid-19 with onset at least 7 days after the second dose among participants assigned to receive BNT162b2 and 162 cases among those assigned to placebo; BNT162b2 was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 (95% credible interval, 90.3 to 97.6). Similar vaccine efficacy (generally 90 to 100%) was observed across subgroups defined by age, sex, race, ethnicity, baseline body-mass index, and the presence of coexisting conditions. Among 10 cases of severe Covid-19 with onset after the first dose, 9 occurred in placebo recipients and 1 in a BNT162b2 recipient. The safety profile of BNT162b2 was characterized by short-term, mild-to-moderate pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headache. The incidence of serious adverse events was low and was similar in the vaccine and placebo groups. Conclusions A two-dose regimen of BNT162b2 conferred 95% protection against Covid-19 in persons 16 years of age or older. Safety over a median of 2 months was similar to that of other viral vaccines. (Funded by BioNTech and Pfizer; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT04368728.)
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            Is Open Access

            A new coronavirus associated with human respiratory disease in China

            Emerging infectious diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Zika virus disease, present a major threat to public health 1–3 . Despite intense research efforts, how, when and where new diseases appear are still a source of considerable uncertainty. A severe respiratory disease was recently reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. As of 25 January 2020, at least 1,975 cases had been reported since the first patient was hospitalized on 12 December 2019. Epidemiological investigations have suggested that the outbreak was associated with a seafood market in Wuhan. Here we study a single patient who was a worker at the market and who was admitted to the Central Hospital of Wuhan on 26 December 2019 while experiencing a severe respiratory syndrome that included fever, dizziness and a cough. Metagenomic RNA sequencing 4 of a sample of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from the patient identified a new RNA virus strain from the family Coronaviridae, which is designated here ‘WH-Human 1’ coronavirus (and has also been referred to as ‘2019-nCoV’). Phylogenetic analysis of the complete viral genome (29,903 nucleotides) revealed that the virus was most closely related (89.1% nucleotide similarity) to a group of SARS-like coronaviruses (genus Betacoronavirus, subgenus Sarbecovirus) that had previously been found in bats in China 5 . This outbreak highlights the ongoing ability of viral spill-over from animals to cause severe disease in humans.
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              Efficacy and Safety of the mRNA-1273 SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine

              Abstract Background Vaccines are needed to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and to protect persons who are at high risk for complications. The mRNA-1273 vaccine is a lipid nanoparticle–encapsulated mRNA-based vaccine that encodes the prefusion stabilized full-length spike protein of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes Covid-19. Methods This phase 3 randomized, observer-blinded, placebo-controlled trial was conducted at 99 centers across the United States. Persons at high risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection or its complications were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive two intramuscular injections of mRNA-1273 (100 μg) or placebo 28 days apart. The primary end point was prevention of Covid-19 illness with onset at least 14 days after the second injection in participants who had not previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Results The trial enrolled 30,420 volunteers who were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive either vaccine or placebo (15,210 participants in each group). More than 96% of participants received both injections, and 2.2% had evidence (serologic, virologic, or both) of SARS-CoV-2 infection at baseline. Symptomatic Covid-19 illness was confirmed in 185 participants in the placebo group (56.5 per 1000 person-years; 95% confidence interval [CI], 48.7 to 65.3) and in 11 participants in the mRNA-1273 group (3.3 per 1000 person-years; 95% CI, 1.7 to 6.0); vaccine efficacy was 94.1% (95% CI, 89.3 to 96.8%; P<0.001). Efficacy was similar across key secondary analyses, including assessment 14 days after the first dose, analyses that included participants who had evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection at baseline, and analyses in participants 65 years of age or older. Severe Covid-19 occurred in 30 participants, with one fatality; all 30 were in the placebo group. Moderate, transient reactogenicity after vaccination occurred more frequently in the mRNA-1273 group. Serious adverse events were rare, and the incidence was similar in the two groups. Conclusions The mRNA-1273 vaccine showed 94.1% efficacy at preventing Covid-19 illness, including severe disease. Aside from transient local and systemic reactions, no safety concerns were identified. (Funded by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; COVE ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT04470427.)

                Author and article information

                Nat Rev Drug Discov
                Nat Rev Drug Discov
                Nature Reviews. Drug Discovery
                Nature Publishing Group UK (London )
                25 August 2021
                : 1-22
                [1 ]GRID grid.147455.6, ISNI 0000 0001 2097 0344, Department of Chemical Engineering, , Carnegie Mellon University, ; Pittsburgh, PA USA
                [2 ]GRID grid.25879.31, ISNI 0000 0004 1936 8972, Department of Medicine, , University of Pennsylvania, ; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [3 ]GRID grid.147455.6, ISNI 0000 0001 2097 0344, Department of Biomedical Engineering, , Carnegie Mellon University, ; Pittsburgh, PA USA
                Author information
                © Springer Nature Limited 2021

                This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted research re-use and secondary analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

                : 20 July 2021
                Review Article

                nanoparticles,nucleic-acid therapeutics,infectious diseases,drug delivery


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