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A Way Around

Messenger RNAs are once again capturing the attention of pharmaceutical companies as a class of drugs, writes Susan Young at MIT's Technology Review. In the past, mRNAs had garnered interest, but then had been abandoned as they can also set off an immune response.

But new ways to work around their unwanted effects have been found, Young says. For example, she notes that Moderna — which has recently entered a $240 million agreement with AstraZeneca for it to use Moderna technology to develop therapeutics — uses some mRNA nucleotide analogs to avoid the immune system labeling it as harmful. That change also strengthens, she says, the known fragility of mRNAs so that they can last longer in patients and be taken up by their cells.

"The beauty is that the patient's cells produce the drug," Carsten Rudolph, CEO of Ethris, tells Young. Because patients produce the drug, he adds, there is less of a chance of an adverse immune reaction. Ethris, meanwhile, has joined with Shire to develop treatments based on its own technology.