Researchers discover way to increase synthetic mRNA's protein production

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

November 23, 2022 -- A team of researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has discovered a way to increase synthetic mRNA's protein production efficiency by up to 10 times. They contend that their findings can improve the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines and drugs with even less dosage of the mRNAs.

The demand for synthetic mRNAs as alternative therapeutic agents for delivery of proteins is rapidly rising, according to the authors. However, they say the practical use of synthetic mRNAs has been restricted due to their low cellular stability as well as poor protein production efficiency, which results in high dosage and repeated injections of mRNA drugs and vaccines to generate enough protein in the body.

In a study published in the December 13 issue of the journal Molecular Therapy - Nucleic Acids, the HKUST team -- led by Becki Yi Kuang, PhD, assistant professor at the department of chemical and biological engineering -- found a way to enhance both the life span and efficiency of mRNA.

By engineering different mRNA's tail sequences, Kuang's team eventually discovered optimized sequences that could produce 3 to 10 times as many proteins than unoptimized tail sequences commonly used for synthetic mRNAs on both human cells and mice cells. The duration of protein production was also doubled.

The technology will not only reduce the amount and the number of injections needed for mRNA drugs and vaccines, but it will also potentially lower the cost of treatments. It can also be used along with other mRNA enhancement technologies to synergically boost protein production, according to the authors.

Going forward, the researchers -- in collaboration with Sun Yat-Sen University -- will investigate the use of optimized tails for mRNA cancer vaccines on animals.

"We are also looking forward to collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to transfer this invention onto mRNA therapeutics and vaccines' development pipelines to benefit society," Kuang said in a statement.

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