Kate Broderick speaking at a conference

Category: From the Science and Innovation Office

Our Chief Innovation Officer, Kate Broderick, PhD, was featured on the Drug Solutions Podcast. She and Acuitas Therapeutics President & CEO, Dr. Thomas Madden, discussed the COVID-19 pandemic response, future scientific communications, and health care funding for mRNA. It was a lively and interesting conversation that is worth checking out.

Chris Spivey, editorial director, hosts a wide ranging discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic response, future government communications, and healthcare funding for mRNA with experts Dr. Kate Broderick, Chief Innovation Officer, Maravai LifeSciences and Dr. Tom MaddenPresident & CEO at Acuitas Therapeutics.

Highlights include supply chain modalities, ensuring a fully trained manufacturing workforce, combining delivery with gene editing innovations, epigenetic approaches to modulate gene expression moving toward the clinic. We conclude with the huge potential for RNA expression of monoclonal antibodies and protein replacement applications.

About the speakers

Dr. Kate Broderick, chief innovation officer at Maravai LifeSciences has extensive experience and expertise in leading and liaising with multi-disciplinary groups from discovery and R&D to engineering and clinical teams. She brings strong and broad scientific expertise to TriLink Biotechnologies, which covers multiple areas, including gene delivery, medical devices, gene therapies for the treatment of various infectious diseases, cancer immunotherapies and vaccine development. Additionally, she has extensive experience with non-viral delivery systems for a wide range of vaccine targets and cancer immunotherapies.

Dr. Thomas D. Madden, president & CEO of Acuitas Therapeutics, is a world-renowned expert in the area of nanotechnology. Dr. Madden co-founded Acuitas Therapeutics in February 2009 and has guided the company into its position as a global leader through the development and application of lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology. Acuitas Therapeutics partners with leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and prestigious academic institutions around the world, providing its proprietary LNP delivery technology to enable new drugs based on nucleic acid therapeutics.

About the Drug Solutions Podcast

Pharmaceutical Technology presents the Drug Solutions podcast, where the editors will chat with industry experts from across the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical supply chain. Join us as experts share insights into your biggest questions—from the technologies, to strategies, to regulations related to the development and manufacture of drug products.

Have you tried to buy eggs recently? You might have noticed the significant price hike if you are lucky enough to find some. This critical shortage is partially caused by rising fuel and bird food costs, but the primary driver is the worst bird flu outbreak the world has ever seen.

The highly infectious H5N1 bird flu strain is responsible for the deaths of millions of domestic birds and hundreds of thousands of wild birds. But perhaps most concerningly, it is also now being found in mammals.

Bird flu, as its name suggests, is an infectious influenza disease that affects poultry and wild birds. The virus that infects birds has been circulating for over 100 years, but the H5N1 strain, the most prevalent variant now, was first reported in China in 1996.

Like all influenza outbreaks, bird flu is cyclical – becoming more prevalent in the autumn and winter before fading away in spring and summer.

The virus can spread through entire flocks of domestic birds within days, primarily transmitted through infected birds’ droppings and saliva or contaminated feed and water.

The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) has recorded almost 42 million individual cases in domestic and wild birds since the outbreak began in October 2021. Nearly 15 million domestic birds, including poultry, have died from the disease, and more than 193 million more have been culled. In many countries, the widespread discards of egg-laying chickens have led to egg shortages in stores – you only need to go to Costco to notice the impact!

At the moment, it’s unclear why this outbreak is so much worse than others previously. Like COVID, the virus may have mutated to enable it to spread more readily from bird to bird. However, this H5N1 strain not only spreads faster, but it also can infect mammals.

WOAH has counted 119 outbreaks of the virus amongst a spectrum of mammals, although it says this is undoubtedly an underestimate. The species that have been known to be affected include dolphins, seals, foxes, otters, grizzly bears, and mink. If you take a trip to San Diego Zoo, you’ll notice that all the penguins, as are the otters, are off-exhibit.

The route of infection for mammals may be through the infected mammal having fed dead or sick wild birds with the virus. The more worrying possibility is that the virus has mutated to infect mammals. Currently, there has been no evidence of the virus spreading between mammals.

To put this concerning possibility into context, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that over the past 20 years, 870 humans have been infected with avian flu, and 457 have died. These documented cases primarily occurred when humans came into close contact with infected birds in factory or farm settings. Another way to look at that is that avian flu has a 50% fatality rate.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) consider the risk to the general public low. The WHO has called for effective monitoring of the H5N1 virus to see whether it is mutating into a form that can now spread amongst humans. So, for now, let’s hope the infection rates among birds diminish in the upcoming spring… and the egg-laying chickens can rebound!

This past Saturday, February 4, was World Cancer Day. Created in 2000, this day is meant to raise awareness, improve education, and spur action for a world where access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is widely available and equitable for all.

Sadly, most of us have been affected by cancer – whether it be friends, family, or even ourselves, cancer does not discriminate. 

From my own personal experience, I lost my mum to cancer several years ago, and it causes me great pain that she couldn’t get to know her grandkids. In 2020, there were an estimated 18.1 million cancer cases worldwide.* However, due to advancements in the field of nucleic acid medicines, our ability to fight the scourge of cancer has gotten significantly stronger.

Patients no longer have to rely solely on traditional treatment approaches, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which can have debilitating side effects. 

Significant progress in the field of RNA vaccines has allowed the development of additional therapeutic vaccine approaches. Some RNA- based vaccines are designed to target specific motifs or markers on the surface of cancer cells, with the goal of targeting just those cells and killing them. Highly individualized approaches, such as personalized RNA vaccines, can be made specifically for an individual patient’s cancer type. And finally, there is cell therapy which uses a patient’s cells, or cells from a donor, and manipulates them using nucleic acids to be infused back into the patient and more effectively attack the cancer. 

While there is still work to be done to research and continue developing these treatments, these advancements are showing incredible results in more effectively fighting cancer.

I am so proud to be here at Maravai, where we are one of many companies supporting these critical, groundbreaking innovations in cancer research, prevention, and treatment.

Cheers to all of you #MiracleMakers!

I truly hope it inspires you that what we do has the opportunity to change the path of cancer treatment so that, eventually, no more families have to suffer the loss of a loved one. We must continue to innovate – that is how all new breakthrough treatments and technologies will be discovered. The more knowledge we have, the more treatments we develop, the more access we can create, and the more people can be cured.

I would encourage you to become an advocate for cancer research and participate in events that raise awareness and funds, like our Maravai Foundation partner Curebound.

There are so many ways to get involved and be part of achieving a world without cancer. Learn more on worldcancerday.org or the American Association for Cancer Research’s National Cancer Prevention Month website (also this February!)