Scientists and biotech companies are lining up for the messenger RNA (mRNA) products that the Dutch start-up RiboPro makes. The company is therefore growing rapidly. Global demand for mRNA exceeds supply: the number of producers can be counted on about two hands.
By now, we know Messenger RNA as the active ingredient in Pfizer and Moderna’s corona vaccines. It is a copy of a piece of DNA and serves as a messenger to instruct the human cell to make a certain protein. After that, the body quickly breaks down the mRNA.
Messenger RNA is highly promising and new drugs based on this technique have been researched for years. Meanwhile, mRNA is used in the most successful vaccines in the fight against the coronavirus. “We felt that we had to convince the world of the benefits of mRNA products,” says biochemist Sander van Asbeck, CEO and founder of RiboPro. “Then came corona and the vaccines. Demand has skyrocketed since then; everyone seems to believe in it now.”
The Oss-based RiboPro, located at pharma campus Pivot Park, produces its own mRNA. Van Asbeck has been researching mRNA drugs for years with his company Mercurna, a spin-off from Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. “There, we were doing research on the development of a new drug for chronic kidney disease. To do this, we were using mRNA that we produced in-house.” However, the company was being called upon more and more to make mRNA for others who were also engaged in research and drug development. Van Asbeck: “That’s why we decided to set up a new company in addition to Mercurna that would focus entirely on the production and further development of our own mRNA.”
In early 2020, RiboPro was set up to produce mRNA for third parties. For example, several researchers are working on mRNA drugs that can fight tumors or tackle eye or skin inflammations. The mRNA puts the body’s own immune system to work, so to speak. Extra proteins are produced to boost body processes to attack or repair a virus or tumor.
“mRNA puts the body’s own immune system to work, so to speak,” Sander van Asbeck, CEO RiboPro
The important thing is that the body will not attack the mRNA because it is foreign to the body. “But if it’s produced cleanly and properly, then the body will accept mRNA and you won’t get any undesirable side effects,” Van Asbeck explains. The mRNA molecules are produced in Oss and then frozen in a drop of water. You cannot see it, but once it is in the body it certainly does its job.
Treatment with a message
The major advantage of mRNA, according to Van Asbeck, is that it does not involve genetically modified or chemical substances.” A lot of drugs are actually poisons. It’ s different with mRNA, you treat the body with a message, you pass on information after which the body itself starts to produce proteins and so starts to treat itself.”
As a biochemist, Van Asbeck has been working with mRNA for many years now. But now all of a sudden, everyone has an opinion about it. “I know better than anyone how mRNA works. And I am completely convinced that if it is produced properly and cleanly, mRNA is perfectly safe. After a few days or weeks it’s cleared from your body, which is just how it’s programmed.”
Revolution in medicine
Incidentally, RiboPro does not sell mRNA products to the major vaccine makers. RiboPro’s mRNA is presently approved solely for research purposes. In time, the company does want to start producing it for use in medicines and vaccines, which is why they recently partnered up with GMP facility manager Medace from Maastricht.
RiboPro recently secured €1.2 million to further develop the mRNA technology, bolster the company and to grow. Van Asbeck: “This way, we can truly play a significant role in the mRNA drug revolution.”