Biotech giant Pfizer and young upstart Moderna have announced preliminary results from large. Pfizer, and research collaborator BioNTech, have submitted their vaccine for emergency use authorization with the US Food and Drug Administration. Moderna is expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.
The accelerated development and testing are a spectacular and unprecedented achievement. Vaccines can take over a decade to create, but the two firms have built them in just 10 months. Their successes arise in part due to how they designed their new vaccines.
Both use synthetic messenger RNA, or mRNA, a molecule that tells cells how to build proteins. With it, you can trick cells into producing proteins usually found in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and stimulate the immune system — without making patients sick — to provide protection against infection.
These are the first two vaccines to use this pioneering technology. If they are as effective as early data suggests, they could herald a new era in vaccine and therapeutic design. With significant refinement, mRNA vaccines could treat not just viral diseases like COVID-19, but inherited diseases, allergies or even cancer. “I think we’ll see some pretty incredible breakthroughs based on these technologies in the future,” says Larisa Labzin, an immunologist at the University of Queensland, Australia.
And if another pandemic catches our immune systems off-guard in the future, mRNA vaccines have the potential to put a stop to things faster than ever before.
Hijacking a factory
Cells are protein factories. Almost every cell in the body has a tiny compartment known as the nucleus, where the body’s instruction manual, DNA, is stored. DNA contains two strands, twisted into a double helix, composed of four bases. Stretches of DNA, containing a few bases or many thousands, form genes…Read more>>