In vitro transcribed (IVT) mRNA has recently come into focus as a potential new drug class to deliver genetic information. Such synthetic mRNA can be engineered to transiently express proteins by structurally resembling natural mRNA. Advances in addressing the inherent challenges of this drug class, particularly related to controlling the translational efficacy and immunogenicity of the IVTmRNA, provide the basis for a broad range of potential applications. mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies and infectious disease vaccines have entered clinical development. Meanwhile, emerging novel approaches include in vivo delivery of IVT mRNA to replace or supplement proteins, IVT mRNA-based generation of pluripotent stem cells and genome engineering using IVT mRNA-encoded designer nucleases. This Review provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of mRNA-based drug technologies and their applications, and discusses the key challenges and opportunities in developing these into a new class of drugs.