It is not enough that countries all over the globe are dealing with the disease, COVID-2019, caused by SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus affecting millions and the cause of a pandemic for most of 2020. Indeed, there are worries of the current and future impact the deadly disease instills upon global economies, as well as developing countries. A prominent vaccine seems to be the only solution and luckily, one has emerged from the American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer working with German biotechnology company, BioNTech SE, while another one has also been developed by Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
According to Matthew Rozsa of Salon.com in an article, titled, “Why mRNA vaccines like those being made to treat coronavirus are a quantum leap for biotech,” the “synthetic messenger RNA” vaccine carries forms of mRNA which mimics a molecular value of DNA found in a gene. This molecule then helps produce proteins like those associated with COVID-19 called Spikes, Rozsa reported. “By helping the body’s cells to produce Spike, the vaccines in the process train the immune system to recognize it and protect the human body from novel coronavirus infections.”
Although it appears easy enough to understand how this type of vaccine works, Rozsa further elaborated:
“There was very slow progress in the development of mRNA-based therapeutic approaches because there were two major hurdles that needed to be overcome,” Pardi told Salon. The first hurdle was “the instability of mRNA and the lack of a safe and efficient carrier molecule that can protect mRNA from rapid degradation.” Because mRNA is fragile, you can’t just put it in water and inject it; it needs to sit inside something.
Another probelm is inflammation, according to Rozsa. Though mRNA vaccines could cause inflammatory problems, a solution was reportedly developed in 2005 by Hungarian biochemist and senior VP of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceutials, Dr. Katalin Karikó and colleague from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Drew Weissman. Their solution was to replace building blocks of the mRNA through a process called, “nucleoside-modified mRNA.”
The Salon.com article also mentioned how research assistant and Professor of Medicine at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Dr. Norbert Pardi, (where Dr. Weissman also attended in 2005,) had found a satisfactory way to deliver the modified mRNA, which is through Lipid NanoParticles, or LNPs. Thus, the current COVID-19 vaccine is distributed as follows, according to Rozsa:
“Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccines use the nucleoside-modified mRNA-LNP platform,” Pardi said. This method has been found to be safe and effective in the Phase III clinical trials from both companies.
Though there have been claims by even President Donald J. Trump, himself on a 95 percent effective rate, there are also reports of when the “nucleoside-modified mRNA-LNP” vaccination has been as low as 90 percent effective, as mentioned via Salon.com.
There are those eager to distribute an effective vaccine against COVID-19, including through the use of newer biotechnology methods, but with trials which had originally been reported to be as low as 60 days and now appears to be obsolete information, many anticipaters must have valid worries over possible severe and long-term side-effects. The newly and now-approved biotechnology method is a main stage event the whole world must tune into for the latest breakthroughs in (biotechnology) medicine.