etherna and Hasselt University to Partner on mRNA Therapeutics Research

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The organizations plan to combine etherna’s experience in mRNA and lipid-based nanoparticles with UHasselt’s autoimmune research to treat a variety of auto-immune diseases.

On May 21, 2024, etherna, a messenger RNA (mRNA) technologies company, has announced a research collaboration with Hasselt University (UHasselt) to create an mRNA-based therapy for auto-immune disorders (1). The project, which received €1.7 million from Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), will combine etherna’s knowledge of developing customized mRNA and lipid-based nanoparticle (LNP) technologies for immune-modulation with UHasselt’s research into autoimmune diseases, particularly multiple sclerosis. The organizations hope to develop a tolerizing mRNA-LNP platform capable of restoring homeostasis across a wide range of auto-immune diseases.

“This innovative project was created by bringing together the expertise of etherna in mRNA and LNP technologies and the extensive immunological knowledge available in the Biomedical Research Institute (BIOMED) of Hasselt University,” said Prof. Bieke Broux, PhD, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, UHasselt, in an etherna press release (1). “My team focuses specifically on finding solutions for the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. To this end, we use human in vitro models, as well as laboratory animal models to translationally test our findings.”

“The collaboration with etherna in this VLAIO-funded project is a great opportunity to contribute to the application of mRNA technologies in the fight against autoimmune disorders,” added Paulien Baeten, PhD, postdoctoral researcher, UHasselt. “This gives us as academic researchers the opportunity to convert our acquired knowledge into a solution for patients.”

etherna was founded in 2013 and has since established itself in end-to-end design, development, and manufacture of next-generation mRNA products. It has experience with lipid chemistry, molecular designs, customized lipid nanoparticle formulations, mRNA-based T-cell adjuvants, and advanced manufacturing processes. The company often partners with biopharma companies, both emerging and established, to tackle current challenges in mRNA therapeutics.


BIOMED uses high-end technologies to research three areas in disease: immunology, neuroscience, and cardiovascular disease.The institute develops applications for patients and the healthcare sector using a combination of fundamental research with translational programs. The focus is on “identifying risk factors throughout the different phases of life, developing better insights into disease mechanisms, monitoring conditions, and devising strategies to deal with, treat, and prevent conditions” (1).

“We are delighted to receive this grant from VLAIO and enter into collaboration with UHasselt,” said Stefaan De Koker, PhD, vice president Technology and Innovation, etherna. “We see autoimmune diseases as one of the key opportunities for mRNA therapeutics alongside oncology and infectious diseases. The aim is to develop tolerizing mRNA therapeutics that selectively amplify immune-suppressive regulatory T cells (Tregs) and deplete disease-causing auto-reactive effector T cells (Teffs) whilst avoiding generalized immune activation. etherna’s ability to provide ultrapure, non-inflammatory mRNA, and immune-silent LNPs targeting antigen presenting cells alongside UHasselt’s immunological expertise will be key to success.”

etherna often pursues collaborations around mRNA technology. On Dec. 12, 2023, the company announced a collaboration with Almirall, a pharmaceutical company focused on medical dermatology, to research and develop mRNA-based therapies for severe skin diseases such as non-melanoma skin cancer (2). The companies planned to collaborate on research, with Almirall leading clinical development and commercialization.


  1. etherna. etherna and Hasselt University Announce Autoimmune mRNA Therapeutics Research Collaboration. Press Release, May 21, 2024.
  2. etherna. Almirall and etherna Enter into a Multi-target Alliance to Develop mRNA-Based Therapies in Medical Dermatology. Press Release, Dec. 12, 2023.