Communicating the Power of mRNA Therapies
WE's Scientific Engagement team breaks down how to meet the communications challenges around mRNA and its potential.
In the past decade, research into life sciences has taken huge leaps forward, making discoveries that allow us to better harness our genetic code. These discoveries are now beginning to filter through into clinical practice.
One of the most exciting avenues of research has been the potential for mRNA therapies. Messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, is an essential component of all living organisms. The molecule is copied from cells’ DNA and used as a set of instructions to manufacture proteins — the building blocks of all cells in the body.
mRNA as medicines has been discussed and researched for many years but was brought into the global spotlight by the pandemic. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna saw an opportunity as the pandemic began and, in rapid succession, deployed the first mRNA vaccines to combat COVID-19. Both vaccines target the spike protein expressed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, activating the body’s immune response to stimulate production of antibodies capable of protecting against future infection.
In their first year, Pfizer and BioNTech shipped more than 1.5 billion mRNA COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide. As part of the global vaccination effort to curb the pandemic, it is estimated the COVID-19 vaccines saved 20 million lives in that time.
The rapid rollout of mRNA vaccines demonstrates the power of mRNA therapeutics in terms of adaptability, universality and scalability. It has opened the floodgates for mRNA science to create a new class of transformative therapies that could benefit a huge number of patients. Several biotech firms, including BioNTech and Moderna, are pioneering mRNA therapies for cancer, autoimmune diseases and rare inherited disorders.
The WE Scientific Engagement team is incredibly excited at the prospect of mRNA therapeutics. However, with any new medicine comes new communication challenges. In this post, we identify three of these challenges and describe how biotech firms working in this space can tackle them.
Breaking Down Complexity
mRNA therapeutics involve complex scientific concepts based on fundamental biochemical principles. An example is the unique approach being taken to create personalized mRNA cancer vaccines: Researchers identify the specific combination of mutations in a patient’s cancerous tissue and use this information to design a personalized mRNA vaccine that trains the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancerous cells.
A good understanding of mRNA therapies means clinicians and patients will be more aware of their benefits and more confident in their effectiveness. Clinicians will be more likely to prescribe the therapy, and patients will be more likely to comply with it.
Our passionate and dedicated team is always at the cutting edge of the scientific landscape. We can help you break down this complexity through immersive experiences, e-learning modules and scientific platforms. You can choose from our toolbox of offerings to create targeted communication campaigns that engage specific audiences.
Keep People Engaged
Addressing complexity is only one part of a communication campaign. To drive real change in health outcomes, all scientific and medical communications need to tell the human story behind the data. Our expertise in scientific storytelling means we are well placed to help you put these new therapeutic technologies into the context of people’s lived experience.
One related example that really resonated with us was NHS London’s “Vaccine Facts” campaign. This was a community-led program designed to increase confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. People were guided to a website where they could access videos and short articles of local people answering questions and explaining why they thought it was important to get the vaccine. The success of this campaign shows that, by infusing facts with feeling and invoking an emotional response, you can leave a memorable impression on the reader that drives them to positive action.
Patient-centricity is a powerful way for you to engage audiences, but scientific storytelling can also be a valuable tool for your communication campaign. For example, BioNTech’s race to develop the first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — dubbed “Project Lightspeed” — is a compelling story about the power of scientific innovation. The extensive reporting of this story illustrates how a narrative can be used to raise the profile of mRNA therapies and the companies that develop them.
Combat Misinformation and Hesitancy
mRNA vaccines have already shown their potential to make a huge impact in healthcare. However, COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy continues to jeopardize efforts to contain the pandemic. The issue of vaccine hesitancy has a long history. Notable examples include fears of the MMR vaccine’s links to autism in the UK and the HPV vaccine crisis in Japan.
The rapid and widespread rollout of mRNA vaccines has led to a crowded information landscape where the risk of adverse effects to vaccination are inflated by nonreviewed opinions. By underpinning your projects with behavioral science, you can face this issue head on and combat misinformation by providing clear, concise messaging that addresses the barriers to vaccine uptake and increases confidence in these therapies.
The future is bright. mRNA therapeutics are just the first step in a life sciences revolution likely to occur over the next few decades. Specialist biotech companies are already developing the next generation of mRNA-related medicines. For example, Orna Therapeutics is developing circular RNA therapies capable of manufacturing more therapeutic protein inside the body than conventional mRNA.
Elsewhere, the discovery of the CRISPR gene-editing tool has equally huge implications for the treatment of diseases, such as previously incurable inherited disorders such as sickle cell anemia. These discoveries have far-reaching effects that could fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered. This is an incredibly exciting time to work in healthcare, and we are eager to see what the future holds.
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