Messenger RNA (mRNA)’s role in the creation and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines has seen pharmaceutical and life sciences organisations massively ramp up their mRNA research, development, and production capabilities. Interestingly, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, Katalin Karikó (also a former SVP at BioNTech) and Drew Weissman, jointly received the 2023 Nobel Prize in medicine for their efforts in the mRNA space, which were instrumental in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
But, now that demand for COVID-19 vaccines is slowing, what’s next for mRNA? And what can pharmaceutical companies do to make the most of the research and production capacity that’s now available to them?
Finding mRNA’s next big use cases
The international race to develop viable COVID-19 vaccines hugely advanced our collective understanding of mRNAs, and what they can be used to accomplish. Now, major pharmaceutical companies are reallocating resources to explore and develop new mRNA-based vaccines and therapies:
- Moderna is using mRNAs to develop new vaccines for flu, RSV, HIV, Lyme disease, and the Zika virus, as well as therapeutics for oncology, immuno-oncology, and cystic fibrosis
- BioNTech is developing mRNA therapeutics for advanced R/R melanomas and metastatic non-small cell lung carcinomas
- Sanofi is developing mRNA vaccines for influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and mRNA therapies for oncology
- Ionis is using mRNAs to create therapies and treatments for Alexander Disease
That’s just a small snapshot of the mRNA innovation that’s happening across the pharmaceutical industry today. At large, the single greatest opportunity and growth appears to be in the prophylactic vaccine space, which currently accounts for 42% of the total mRNA pipeline today.
While many of these vaccines and therapeutics still have a way to go, we’re moving towards a diverse market landscape that has the potential to disrupt existing vaccine and therapy portfolios.
MRNA market outlook
The drop-off in demand for COVID-19 vaccines has resulted in a reasonably poor short-term outlook for the mRNA market. Producers (including bio-pharmaceutical companies and CMOs manufacturing raw materials, drug substances, and drug products) are set to have excess production capacity available, and overall sales are set to fall. However, the long-term market outlook is very different.
The mRNA vaccines and therapeutics market is expected to exceed USD 68 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of around 8.8% between 2023 and 2030. As leaders transform their mRNA development pipelines into market-ready therapeutics, the face of the market will shift massively.
Evidence of that impending shift can already be observed. In Q2 2023 alone, advanced molecular therapy companies penned 117 new deals. In a very short space of time we’ve seen Moderna invest in several facilities in Australia, Canada, Kenya and the UK, as well as its most recent investment in a new manufacturing plant in the US. In addition, Applied DNA has recently acquired Spindle Biotech, Merck acquired mRNA CDMO AmpTec, and Sanofi acquired both Translate Bio and Tidal Therapeutics.
With production capabilities widely available at the right cost, and producers looking to form partnerships with companies that can help them start producing new vaccines and therapies, now is the right time for pharmaceutical firms to seize the mRNA opportunity.
How you can maximise the mRNA opportunity today
For pharmaceutical and life sciences companies that want to make the most of today’s mRNA market opportunity, we recommend exploring three specific paths forward:
1) Pursuing partnerships and acquisitions
Larger companies could take this opportunity to acquire smaller biotech organisations with niche product lines in the mRNA space. With the market set to grow significantly, organisations have a window of around two years to make acquisitions before the companies they may target begin to grow significantly.
For teams that aren’t in a position to acquire new companies directly, co-development partnerships should be explored. By establishing new R&D collaborations, organisations with complimentary needs and skills can develop new vaccines and therapies fast, and still reach the market before major growth begins.
2) Building partnerships with CDMOs
With COVID-19 vaccine production slowing significantly, Contract Development and Manufacturing Organisations (CDMOs) with mRNA production capabilities are likely to be highly motivated to form production partnerships with new pharmaceutical and life sciences organisations over the next few years.
With capacity widely available, companies have an opportunity to produce mRNA vaccines and therapies very cost-effectively, and maximise their margins while driving growth.
3) Keep your eye on the mRNA market
Even if mRNAs don’t appear to pose an immediate threat to your vaccine and therapy portfolio, it’s still worth keeping an eye on mRNA market dynamics – including new clinical trials. The space is evolving at a rapid pace, and new investment opportunities and approaches are constantly appearing. By watching the market carefully, you’ll keep your organisation in a strong position to seize those opportunities as they emerge.
Be wary of market challenges
As teams take steps to make the most of the mRNA opportunity, it’s important that they don’t overlook some of the persistent challenges that hinder growth in the pharmaceutical market.
First and foremost, governance and regulatory compliance need to stay at the top of their agendas. New products must go through rigorous tests, checks, and regulatory processes before they can be brought to market, and those steps must remain a priority throughout accelerated research and development processes.
It’s also important to note that the vaccines and therapies that will drive mRNA growth over the next decade are still at a nascent stage. They can cost a significant amount to produce, and teams will need to keep a close eye on their production processes to ensure that they stay efficient. That way the final prices of their therapies can stay competitive.
And as always, it’s essential that the organisations investing in mRNA development and production keep a close eye on market and supply chain conditions. While supply of the lipid nanoparticles required to produce mRNA therapies, and the availability of the ultra-cold logistics required to ship and store them, are both adequate today, that picture could quickly change as the market grows.
If you’d like to learn more about a specific emerging market opportunity like this, or explore how The Smart Cube could empower your team with actionable category and market intelligence, speak to us today.