Beyond COVID-19: Leading mRNA drug innovation, production

Germany’s medical biotechnology industry met the challenge of COVID-19 with the BioNTech-Pfizer mRNA-based vaccine, one of the world’s first. Now, it is poised to develop other medications – such as cancer therapies – where mRNA could trigger a pharmaceutical revolution.

Laboratory assistant
© AlexRaths

mRNA stands for “messenger ribonucleic acid” – which contains genetic coding for protein synthesis, including viruses. Medical biotechnology has developed ways to program mRNA, enabling it to direct protein function inside cells to treat or prevent disease. The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, for example, mimics the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the means by which the virus invades cells.

BioNTech describes mRNA technology as a the basis for a “disruptive new drug class.” Before the pandemic, the company headquartered in Mainz was focused on using mRNA to treat cancer primarily, but also infectious and rare diseases. The CEO of the biotechnology industry organization BIO, Oliver Schacht says of mRNA-based drugs, “The potential is very great, especially in the area of individualized cancer therapies.”

While German medical biotechnology companies continue to develop innovative drugs, the country’s pharmaceutical industry is preparing to manufacture them. In May, Darmstadt-based pharmaceutical multinational Merck
announced it was scaling up its production of key precursors of mRNA drugs.
The head of Process Solutions - Life Science at Merck, Andrew Bulpin said, “Tapping into two decades’ experience of developing and manufacturing high-quality lipids, we designed a proprietary process to bring our new SAFC® synthetic cholesterol product to market nearly a year early. … We have increased our capacity by 50 times, helping biomanufacturers bring lifesaving therapies to patients faster.”

Merck’s response to the high demand for lipids reflect unique synergies in Germany’s healthcare economy. The export initiative for the German healthcare industry, HEALTH MADE IN GERMANY, is the place to find more information on its dynamic sectors. The initiative has published the German Medical Biotechnology Industry Profile and produced a video Medical Biotechnology Made in Germany which provide information on German medical biotech for interested individuals and businesses from abroad.

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