Scientists, who are currently working on a groundbreaking set of new vaccines, are claiming that due to the success of the Covid jab, 15 years' worth of progress has been "unspooled" in 12 to 18 months.
A leading pharmaceutical firm, researching these vaccinations that are showing "tremendous promise", has recently claimed that it is confident that vaccines for cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and other conditions will be ready by 2030, reports The Guardian.
Moderna, which created a leading coronavirus vaccine, is developing cancer vaccines that target different tumour types.
Dr Paul Burton, the chief medical officer of the pharmaceutical company, stated that he believes the firm will have treatments for "all sorts of disease areas" in as little as five years.
Burton said, "We will have that vaccine and it will be highly effective, and it will save many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. I think we will be able to offer personalised cancer vaccines against multiple different tumour types to people around the world."
He also believes that multiple respiratory infections could be covered by a single injection, therefore allowing vulnerable people to be protected against Covid, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Therapies based on mRNA work by teaching cells how to make a protein that triggers the body's immune response against disease. These mRNA therapies could also be available for rare diseases for which there are currently no drugs, according to the expert.
Burton said, "I think we will have mRNA-based therapies for rare diseases that were previously undruggable, and I think that 10 years from now, we will be approaching a world where you truly can identify the genetic cause of a disease and, with relative simplicity, go and edit that out and repair it using mRNA-based technology."
However, going forward, this accelerated progress which has surged "by an order of magnitude" in the past three years, will need to be backed by high levels of investments.
According to research, the mRNA molecule instructs cells to make proteins. After a synthetic form is injected, cells can pump out proteins we want our immune system to strike.
The role of an mRNA-based cancer vaccine would be to alert the immune system to the cancer that is already growing in a patient's body, so it can attack and destroy it, without destroying healthy cells, says the Guardian report.
This process involves identifying the protein fragments on the surface of cancer cells that are not present in healthy cells. Then, it continues to create pieces of mRNA that will instruct the body on how to manufacture them.
Initially, the doctors have to take a biopsy of a patient's tumour and send it to a lab, where its genetic material is sequenced to identify mutations that aren't present in healthy cells. A machine then learns the algorithm and identifies which of these mutations is responsible for driving the cancer's growth.
With time, it also learns which parts of the abnormal proteins these mutations encode are most likely to trigger an immune response. Then, mRNAs for the most promising antigens are manufactured and packaged into a personalised vaccine, states the reports.
Burton said, "I think what we have learned in recent months is that if you ever thought that mRNA was just for infectious diseases, or just for Covid, the evidence now is that that's absolutely not the case.
"It can be applied to all sorts of disease areas; we are in cancer, infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, rare disease. We have studies in all of those areas and they have all shown tremendous promise."
In January, Moderna announced results from a late-stage trial of its experimental mRNA vaccine for RSV, suggesting it was 83.7% effective at preventing at least two symptoms, cough, and fever, in adults aged 60 and older.
Based on this data, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the vaccine breakthrough therapy designation.
Following In February, the FDA also granted the same designation to Moderna's personalised cancer vaccine, based on the results from patients with the skin cancer melanoma.
Burton said, "I think it was an order of magnitude, that the pandemic sped [this technology] up by. It has also allowed us to scale up manufacturing, so we've got extremely good at making large amounts of vaccine very quickly."
Pfizer has also begun its own late-stage clinical trial of an mRNA-based influenza vaccine. In collaboration with BioNTech, it is going to focus on other infectious diseases which also include shingles.
A spokesperson for Pfizer stated, "The learnings from the Covid-19 vaccine development process have informed our overall approach to mRNA research and development, and how Pfizer conducts R&D (research and development) more broadly. We gained a decade's worth of scientific knowledge in just one year."
Dr Filip Dubovsky, president of research and development at Novavax, said: "There has been a massive acceleration, not just of traditional vaccine technologies, but also novel ones that hadn't previously been taken through licensure. Certainly, mRNA falls into that category, as does our vaccine."
Dr Richard Hackett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (Cepi) said the biggest impact of the pandemic had been the shortening of development timelines for many previously unvalidated vaccine platforms. He explained, "It meant that things that might have unspooled over the next decade or even 15 years, were compressed down into a year or a year and a half …"
Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chair of the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said: "There's no doubt there's a lot more interest in vaccines. The really big question is, what happens from here?"
The risk of losing focus on the advancements of these vaccines is increasing with the rising conflict in Europe. Not capitalising on the momentum gained from the knowledge gathered during the Covid-19 pandemic will pose a setback, believes Pollard.
He said, "If you take a step back to think about what we are prepared to invest in during peacetime, like having a substantial military for most countries … Pandemics are as much a threat, if not more, than a military threat because we know they are going to happen as a certainty from where we are today. But we're not investing even the amount that it would cost to build one nuclear submarine."