Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Award to explore enzyme that could transform RNA vaccines

Prof Susan Rosser, has been awarded £250k to explore the commercial potential of a novel enzyme that could transform the market for next generation vaccines.

Scientists use RNA – in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA) – in the burgeoning field of cell-free protein production and for developing biosensors. However, mRNA could also revolutionise vaccination, protein replacement therapies, and the treatment of genetic diseases. Indeed, the global RNA drugs market is predicted to exceed $10 billion by 2024, highlighting the significant commercial potential of this emerging class of therapeutics.

RNA polymerases (RNAP) are key to mRNA manufacture. Currently T7 RNA polymerase is the gold standard for industrial mRNA production but there is great interest in improved alternatives.

Susan Rosser, Dr Maryia Trubitsyna and colleagues identified a novel single subunit RNAP that has greater activity than T7 RNAP. With the BBSRC Follow On Fund award, the team will further characterise and develop the novel RNAP (and its mutant derivatives) to establish a strong patent position for licencing to industry.

 

A new efficient RNA polymerase could be highly disruptive, reducing the cost of RNA manufacturing and enable more affordable products reach more patients.

Prof Susan RosserDirector, UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology

The team are specifically interested in mRNA as vaccines. Traditional vaccines are made from proteins produced by infectious microbes, or from weakened forms of the microbes themselves. By contrast, RNA vaccines work by introducing an mRNA sequence encoding a disease specific antigen into the cell. Once inside, the RNA is translated into protein (the viral antigen) that can be recognised by the person’s immune system to trigger a protective immune response.

RNA vaccines are safe as they don’t involve exposing a person to the infectious agent itself. They also offer the potential to design a rapid response, manufacturing platform. Their ease of production would allow distributed, localised manufacturing systems to meet the challenges of any emerging disease epidemic within a relatively short time and in the geography where it is needed.