Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The blockbuster success of messenger RNA vaccines in the COVID-19 pandemic could give a boost to efforts to use the technology to tackle cancers, malaria and other intractable illnesses.

Why it matters: There's a pressing need for new ways to prevent infection from viruses like HIV and influenza that conventional vaccines have struggled to address and to treat rare genetic diseases and cancers that kill millions each year. Vaccines and therapies based on messenger RNA (mRNA) hold promise as a solution, but the technology is still in its infancy.

"The pandemic has alerted the world to how good this platform is," says Drew Weissman, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania whose research underpins the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

  • "It will hopefully make future studies and approvals easier."

The basics: In every cell in your body, mRNA carries instructions for making proteins from one part of the cell to another.

  • Proteins — a broad class of molecules that includes antibodies, enzymes and some hormones — are at the center of the immune system's response to viral and bacterial invaders and, when a protein malfunctions, disease can result.
  • Vaccines and therapies that use mRNA can, in theory, be used to train the immune system to recognize invaders and aberrations and correct or restore proteins involved in a host of diseases.
  • But the technology faces hurdles around its delivery within the body, its effectiveness against some diseases and its production.

The list of diseases mRNA vaccine technology could be applied to is "enormous," Weissman says.

  • It includes infectious diseases like malaria and influenza. And cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and cancers are all potential targets for mRNA-based therapies.
  • But some conditions — like diabetes, which results from misregulation of insulin in the body — may not be ripe for mRNA therapy because "we don't have control over how much protein is produced by the RNA," Weissman says.

How it works: Vaccines based on mRNA carry the instructions for making antigen proteins found on the surface of a virus into the body's cells. Those antigens are then made by the cells and in turn prime the immune system to protect the host if the virus attacks.

  • With mRNA therapies, the goal in cases like cystic fibrosis may be to restore the proper function of a protein, whereas in others, mRNA could be a way to deliver replacement proteins or gene-editing enzymes to treat genetic diseases before birth.

Where it stands: After decades of development and several setbacks for mRNA vaccines, two are now being actively deployed to fight COVID-19. And pharmaceutical companies are pursuing others.

The effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines and their delivery to millions of people during the pandemic have "tremendously accelerated" the technology, says Sarah Fortune, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at Harvard who studies tuberculosis.

  • She and others are taking advantage of the speed at which mRNA vaccines can be made by plugging in mRNA sequences to make vaccines that trigger different levels of immune response, allowing researchers to home in on sweet spots for diseases like TB where too strong an immune response can be dangerous.

What's next: Researchers are trying to use mRNA for therapies for noninfectious diseases that can't be prevented with a vaccine.

  • For cancer, mRNA is being investigated as a way to deliver to cells the code for proteins in a tumor, which could even be personalized to match an individual's cancer mutations. The cells then produce those proteins, training the immune system to recognize and destroy the cancer.
  • Some early results are promising, but its success has been limited in other studies.

The challenges: It can be difficult to direct mRNA to specific organs and types of cells, and for cancers and other noninfectious diseases, location matters.

  • Weissman told MIT Tech Review's Antonio Regalado he's come up with a solution to get the nanoparticles that carry mRNA to bone marrow stem cells and he hopes to use it to deliver gene therapy for sickle cell anemia.

More broadly, another challenge is likely to be tissue-level immunity, says Fortune, pointing to tuberculosis, an infection of the lungs, which "have many mechanisms to tamp down the immune response so it doesn’t go crazy. It's unclear whether mRNA vaccines will intersect with those tissue level immune regulatory systems."

  • The fragility of mRNA also means there can be strict manufacturing and storage needs.
  • And the full cost of treatments is unknown — large-scale manufacturing of mRNA vaccines is still being optimized and, despite their pandemic moment, "RNA vaccines might yet face financial headwinds," Elie Dolgin writes for Nature News.

The bottom line: There will be hurdles in getting mRNA technology to work in humans for different diseases, Weissman says. "There's a lot we don't know."

Editor's note: This post has been clarified to say that Moderna has 24 mRNA-based vaccines or therapies in development (not 24 mRNA vaccines).

Go deeper

Updated 3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."

Updated 12 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats join Biden to pivot Build Back Better strategy

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A growing number of Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to begin paring back the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda to salvage what they can, abandoning hopes of the transformational to achieve the possible.

Why it matters: Democrats are desperate to notch a win. President Biden's popularity is sagging in the polls, the pandemic is raging and the party's record of passing crucial legislation has been muddled. Biden himself conceded during his news conference Wednesday that passing the parts was more likely than getting the whole.