Working paper

mRNA vaccines: a lucky shot?

How can the background of mRNA technology development help us understand how public vaccine research and development policy can be improved?

Publishing date
13 December 2021

The author would like to thank Bruegel researchers for helpful comments. This paper was financially supported by Wellcome Trust, as part of a project for the G2O High Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

MRNA technology has proved in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic its breakthrough value as a basis for vaccines. There has been rapid development of highly safe, effective and robust mRNA vaccines, and these can be delivered at large scale. Yet the technology is the result of a long process of accumulation of innovation and capacity. It was a bumpy process that could easily have turned out differently. The mRNA vaccines story suggests that a vibrant vaccine ecosystem cannot be taken for granted in terms of delivering the breakthroughs needed for global pandemic preparedness and response. This paper examines the background of mRNA technology development to understand better how public vaccine research and development policy can be improved to generate the full global social benefits from breakthrough novel vaccine technologies, like mRNA.

Recommended citation:

Veugelers, R. (2021) ‘mRNA vaccines: a lucky shot?’, Working Paper 13/2021, Bruegel

About the authors

  • Reinhilde Veugelers

    Prof Dr. Reinhilde Veugelers is a full professor at KULeuven (BE) at the Department of Management, Strategy and Innovation.  She has been a Senior fellow at Bruegel since 2009.  She is also a CEPR Research Fellow, a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and of the Academia Europeana. From 2004-2008, she was on academic leave, as advisor at the European Commission (BEPA Bureau of European Policy Analysis).  She served on the ERC Scientific Council from 2012-2018 and on the RISE Expert Group advising the commissioner for Research.  She is a member of VARIO, the expert group advising the Flemish minister for Innovation. She is currently a member of the Board of Reviewing Editors of the journal Science and a co-PI on the Science of Science Funding Initiative at NBER.

    With her research concentrated in the fields of industrial organisation, international economics and strategy, innovation and science, she has authored numerous well cited publications in leading international journals.  Specific recent topics include novelty in technology development,  international technology transfers through MNEs, global innovation value chains, young innovative companies, innovation for climate change,  industry science links and their impact on firm’s innovative productivity, evaluation of research & innovation policy,  explaining scientific productivity,  researchers’ international mobility,  novel scientific research.


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