TAMPA — Pharmaceutical company Moderna announced this month it's capitalizing on the experience of developing a COVID-19 vaccine to advance more than a dozen other immunizations based in messenger RNA technology.

What You Need To Know

  • Moderna is working on several vaccines using mRNA technology

  • MRNA vaccines for flu, HIV, and a combination flu/COVID/respiratory virus are expected to enter clinical trials later this year

  • Experts say technology may lend itself well to fighting some illnesses, but more studies are needed

In an April 14 news release from Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said, "We believe we have a unique opportunity to develop new vaccines against viruses hurting people around the world, at a pace that is radically different from what the industry has previously done."

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Professor Andrew Pekosz said mRNA is a platform that's been in development for more than a decade, but earlier vaccines didn't pass early stages of clinical trials before the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 formulas. 

Among the vaccines Moderna officials say the company is working on is a flu vaccine that uses mRNA. Pekosz said it's technology is especially well suited to flu immunizations because it eliminates two production issues.

“One is time. You can make a Moderna vaccine in a month, as opposed to six months," Pekosz said. "That gives us more time to look at the flu strains that are around and choose the best strains."

Pekosz said part of the process for making the flu vaccine is choosing a virus strain and growing it in eggs. While that's happening, there's a chance proteins involved could change, meaning the vaccine may not mimic circulating flu strains as closely as intended.

Because mRNA vaccines don't require this step, that could allow for a better match. University of South Florida Associate Professor of Medicine Dr. Michael Teng said it's too early to say what impact this could have on possible efficacy of the flu shot, which is currently around 40-60%.

“It’s one of those things — it could be a great thing, it may not work," Teng said. "There may be some other way you need to immunize against flu because it’s a different virus."

Moderna officials say there are plans to begin a Phase 1 clinical trial on the flu vaccine later this year, as well as trials on two mRNA HIV vaccines. According to Pekosz, this technology is good for any vaccine that requires antibodies as one of the main modes of protection.

“You could make two, three, four versions of your vaccine that look slightly different to your immune system, give them all together, and then your immune system would make a much broader response that would recognize a lot of different strains," Pekosz said.

“I think the more different types of platforms that we can use to make vaccines, I think the better success we’ll have," said Teng.

While unprecedented funding and resources were directed to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, Pekosz noted that likely won't be the case when it comes to other illnesses. Moderna said it plans to invest resources to accelerate the development of its mRNA line.