Drug delivery technologies promise to create new treatments for cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses. More recently, the rapid development of nanoparticles for the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine has illustrated the power of nanotechnology in drug delivery.

Last December, GEN Biotechnology streamed its inaugural webinar featuring distinguished guest, Robert Langer, ScD, David H. Koch Institute professor of chemical engineering at MIT and co-founder of Moderna, in a webinar entitled: Delivery of mRNA Therapies: Bob Langer Discusses Past, Present, and Future. Langer discussed his early research on developing controlled release systems for macromolecules, as well as the mRNA vaccine development timeline and effectiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As this webinar was pre-recorded, GEN Biotechnology gave audience members the opportunity to submit questions to Langer after the stream. Over 100 questions were received. Langer provided answers to select questions below:

This Q&A has been edited for clarity.


Audience Question: How will mRNA therapeutics impact oncology in the future?

Langer: I think it will have a significant impact, as the very recent Moderna clinical trial for patients with late-stage melanoma using a personalized mRNA cancer vaccine showed a 44% reduction in death or reoccurrence.


Q: Which do you think is the more promising way forward for discovering new and more effective LNPs? Mass screening of lipids or designing lipids by first principle?

Langer: Actually, both are important. We do both in our lab and they can be done in combination as well.


Q: What do you think is the most promising delivery method? What method of delivery do you see progressing the most in the next five years?

Langer: I am not sure if there is a single one as it may depend on the disease.  Nanoparticles have certainly been effective for injectables, but I think that microneedles, pulmonary, nasal and other delivery routes are also important.


Q: Will LNPs dominate the non-viral delivery methods, or do you foresee the emergence of new methods for transfection of genetic material?

Langer: LNPs will continue to be important but polymer particles and other approaches are also becoming crucial.


Q: How would you explain the technology and safety of mRNA delivery methods to non-science major students?

Langer: The technology is a better, simpler, and much faster way of creating protein therapeutics than ever before. In terms of safety, unlike DNA, mRNA does not cause genetic changes. For comparison, according to scientific publications, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines appear somewhat safer and have fewer side effects than standard flu vaccines.


Q: What are the next diseases of interest for mRNA vaccines?

Langer: Flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but there are plenty of others as well.


Q: Can you comment on delivery efficiency to the central nervous system (CNS)?

Langer: The challenge will be to get reasonable bioavailability. Also, the more effective approaches to CNS (for example, intrathecal) are more invasive.

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