SAN DIEGO — Following the success of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, some San Diego-based companies are developing the next generation of technology, called self-replicating RNA.
It is claimed to have longer-lasting therapeutic effects than traditional RNA, but at lower doses.
Arcturus Therapeutics, which is currently developing the self-replicating vaccine COVID-19, has started Phase 3 trials in Vietnam. It is also being tested as a booster dose for the Pfizer vaccine in Singapore.
Replicate Bioscience, a San Diego startup, uses the technology to develop treatments against cancer and other non-infectious disease. The company plans to begin clinical trials next year.
Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines introduce RNA instructions to cells. This temporarily transforms the cells into small drug factories. For approximately two days, the cells produce antigens which are proteins that train the immune system.
The process of replicating RNA works the same way but instructs factories to make another molecule. The factory is then reactivated by the enzyme. This molecule, also known as replicating RNA, allows it to continue production for several weeks or months.
CEO Joe Payne explained that Arcturus’ self replicating COVID-19 vaccine causes cells in the body to produce immune training protein for two weeks.
“You need a vaccine that expresses the antigen for a longer period of time so that the body sees it, sees it again. This is how it works. It is important to remember it. Payne stated, “Never forget.”
Payne stated that a recurrence will provide greater and more lasting protection. However, the company won’t be able to know this until it has completed clinical trials.
Because it uses a lower dose, the technology may reduce side effects. Moderna’s vaccine has 100 micrograms per dose of RNA. Pfizer uses only 30 micrograms. Arcturus uses five micrograms RNA for its self-replicating vaccine.
Payne stated that there were “less allergic reactions” in Arcturus’ self-replicating vaccine. “Few unwelcome side effects.”
Payne stated that it took three times longer to create the self-replicating DNA vaccines than traditional RNA. This is due to the larger molecules, which makes the manufacturing process more complicated. Now that they have figured out how to make the RNA fit into tiny nanoparticles of material, large-scale production should be simpler than with conventional RNA.
Replicate Bioscience is taking a different path. Replicate Bioscience has received a $40 million investment. The startup will develop self-replicating DNA drugs to treat breast, lung, and drug-unresponsive cancers.
“The Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have really delivered on the promise of the technology out there, and there’s a bunch of new companies that really want to deliver on that promise,” said Nathaniel Wang, CEO of Replicate.
Wang explained that Replicate’s self-replicating technology can turn cells into drug factories within two months.