German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH has won the European Union’s first innovation inducement prize for technology producing vaccines that are stable in both hot and freezing temperatures.
CureVac’s RNActive® vaccine technology is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that stimulate the immune system. Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, is a family of molecules found in all living cells that are essential in the coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes.
The company received the €2 million (US$2.77 million) prize for progress towards this novel technology that could bring life-saving vaccines to people across the planet in safe and affordable ways.
The European Commission offered the prize to encourage inventors to overcome one of the biggest barriers to using vaccines in developing countries: the need to keep them stable at any ambient temperature.
Vaccines are often rendered ineffective by temperature variations during transport and storage in tropical and developing countries, long before they can be administered, because for most vaccines, the doses must be kept at a constant and cool temperature.
The World Health Organization estimates that half of all supplied vaccine doses are wasted, mostly due to an inadequate “cold chain” to protect them before use.
“Our format is simple,” explains CureVac on its website. “The body receives specific information that is stored in RNA and uses this information to produce its own, custom-tailored protein as medicine.”
RNActive® stimulates the immune system, “providing potent vaccines for the prevention of infectious diseases or supplying potent novel immunotherapies against cancer,” CureVac says.
This specialized RNA can be directly injected into an organism; the body then produces proteins that elicit an immune response. CureVac is currently running a number of clinical trials with these vaccines.
When the technology is fully tested, CureVac could rapidly produce RNA-based vaccines against almost any infectious disease, and deliver them to the most remote areas of the world.
The prize jury highlighted the potential of this technology to achieve large global health benefits. The jury said it could be applied to many diseases and a number of vaccines, might allow the formulating of a combination of vaccines, and could allow the production of many vaccine units in a single facility.
The European Commission offered the €2 million vaccine prize for innovations to any legal entities in the EU or in a country associated with the EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme. No particular approach was prescribed and competitors were invited to convince the jury that their solution could respond best to the competition criteria, including alternative ways of formulating, preserving or transporting vaccines.