Kaitlyn Felsheim

All eyes have been on the biopharmaceutical industry for nearly a year as the world followed the journey towards the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, the good news of FDA’s decision to allow emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine candidates also revealed the gravity of persistent public misconceptions regarding vaccines that rely on messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology. This education gap continues to threaten the uptake of these life-saving vaccines today.

The past year has shed light on the dangerous repercussions of a fractured channel of communication between scientists and the public. Widespread misunderstandings about infection, viruses, masks and mRNA have raised barriers that harm our ability to confront the pandemic. The need for effective healthcare communication is more apparent now than ever before.

Without strategic efforts to bridge these gaps, we are at risk of suboptimal utilization of life-saving innovations—both now, and in the years to come. As my colleague Greg pointed out in a previous blog post, healthcare communications will play a pivotal role in the successful adoption of innovative cell and gene therapies. But what exactly does that look like?

A solid grasp of the high-level science behind these new-to-consumer therapies will bolster our efforts by giving decision-makers a comprehensive understanding of how to best harness the potential of the many cell and gene therapies on the horizon.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the public reception of RNA therapeutics—from the COVID-19 vaccines to novel cancer treatments—it’s that communicating the science in a clear way can help to strategically reshape the scientific narrative and optimize public understanding and trust in these monumental achievements.

Current hesitancy about adequate coverage, reimbursement, and utilization of RNA therapeutics stems in large part from uncertainty around clinical benefits and durability of a new, unfamiliar product. The lesser-known fact, however, is that RNA therapeutics are far from unfamiliar—these therapies have already been around for decades, as RNA therapeutic experimentation began roughly 70 years ago and the first therapeutic hit the market in 1998.

Reframing the narrative surrounding RNA therapeutics to incorporate their robust history has the potential to increase stakeholder confidence in these therapies and quell concerns about clinical benefits and durability. Simultaneously, a continued spotlight on their novel characteristics and vast potential to transform medicine can be a powerful tool to drive excitement and investment. Getting this narrative right has the potential to shape the landscape, drive awareness among key stakeholders and ultimately change and save patient lives. It’s why we do the work we do at Reservoir every day—and as the RNA therapeutics space continues to grow and evolve, this work will be all the more important.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout presents a meaningful learning opportunity for scientific and health communications. Not only does the development of these mRNA vaccines draw attention to the burgeoning field of RNA therapeutics, but it also sheds light on the need for clear communication. With new therapies and technologies on the horizon, now is the time to learn from our experiences and prepare for the challenges to come.