September 27, 2019
By Stephen Hoge, M.D.
One of the most exciting aspects of mRNA science is expanding its potential into new areas of use. Over the last eight years, we have been successful at advancing the technology used to instruct the body to make its own medicine and have generated positive Phase 1 readouts in many disease areas. To build on that success, we are always looking for new ways to use mRNA to help patients with unmet medical needs. Yesterday, we were pleased to announce a new collaboration with Harvard University, which will help us address these needs and expand in a bold new direction. This includes establishing an initiative at Harvard Medical School called the Alliance for RNA Therapies for the Modulation of the Immune System (ARTiMIS).
A new way to leverage the power of the immune system
The immune system—a powerful and complex network of cells, tissues and organs that protects and maintains our body—is at the heart of many devastating diseases, including infections, autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases and cancer. As an example, one of the most exciting advances in oncology over the last 10 years is PD-1/PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitors that don’t act on the cancer itself. Instead, they act on immune cells called T cells and unleash the potential of those cells to cure cancer in patients. Advances like this demonstrate the immense potential to treat disease by directing the cells of the immune system.
Given the potential, over the last two years we’ve worked hard to develop a delivery technology that allows us to deliver mRNA to the immune system broadly for that purpose. We talked a bit about this at our last Science Day and you can read more about the basis of our approach in our May blog post. We are very excited by that progress, and ready to move forward.
But how do we push the boundaries in a field that is so complex, diverse and dynamic?
Delivering on our mission through collaboration
Given the complexity of the immune system and its potential to treat a wide range of diseases, we recognize that no one group or institution will be able to tackle the challenge alone. We know that we won’t have all the expertise within Moderna’s four walls to answer all the questions we have or bridge all the challenges that lie ahead.
So, yesterday we announced a new chapter in our work in immune therapeutics. We are partnering with Harvard University to advance mRNA immunotherapy research using Moderna’s mRNA and delivery technology to augment our internal efforts. Harvard presents a unique opportunity, with dozens of labs across its affiliated institutions and more than 140 immunology faculty members. While we hope the partnership will contribute to our development of medicines, we are also excited to provide the power of our platform to Harvard immunology researchers to help them explore fundamental aspects of immune biology. We can’t wait to get started on this work and support their efforts.
Working with experts to manage risk
As we’ve said before, we think about managing four main risks inherent to our business: technology risk, biology risk, execution risk and financing risk. Immunology is an area of clear biology risk. So, it is natural to seek the expertise and partnership of others to help ensure our success. While the scope of our collaboration with Harvard is a step in a new direction for us, the overall approach is consistent with what we’ve done before—for instance, working with AstraZeneca on the VEGF program for cardiac disease and the National Cancer Institute and Merck in cancer vaccines.
We are proud of the internal progress we have made to get to this point, and we are excited and privileged to embark on the next phase of this journey with Harvard’s world-renowned leaders in immunological research.