Moderna Designed a Covid-19 Vaccine in Just Two Days Thanks to mRNA Technology
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As laboratories are working hard to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, it emerged that the American pharmaceutical company Moderna took only two days to design its proposal. The speed of response is a result of the use of new mRNA technology, but how does it work?
What could be the greatest scientific advance of the decade was designed in just 48 hours, according to a New York Times report. Mind you, it took them more than three decades of research to come up with a coronavirus vaccine in record time.
Moderna's vaccine is based on messenger RNA, a piece of ribonucleic acid that carries information about the amino acid sequence of a specific protein from the DNA, where all that information is stored, to the ribosome, where in the cell. the different proteins are synthesized. In simple terms, we can view mRNA as a USB device that cells use to pass information from the computer (DNA) to another device, such as the printer (ribosome).
We just announced an amendment to the current supply agreement with the United Kingdom government for an additional 2 million doses of mRNA-1273, our #mRNA vaccine candidate against COVID-19. Read more: https://t.co/w86xN4ckeN pic.twitter.com/rWIVMbSBHN- Moderna (@moderna_tx) November 29, 2020
As they advanced in the production of synthetic RNA, the scientists wondered if they could modify a cell by infiltrating a chain of ribonucleic acid. Thus, they could trick the ribosomes and make them produce the proteins we want.
In 1990, in the laboratories of the University of Wisconsin, it was possible for the first time to "fool" the ribosomes of mice. That opened the door to make "antibodies to vaccinate against infections, enzymes to reverse rare diseases or growth agents to repair damaged heart tissue," the report explains.
Of course, applying it to a human body was more complicated. For one thing, scientists cannot inject synthetic RNA into cells one by one. On the other hand, supplying large amounts of that RNA in the blood could trigger a very dangerous massive immune response.
In 2005, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman discovered a way to "disguise" synthetic RNA against the immune system. Thus, the infiltrated chain could travel through the body and enter cells without producing immune reactions. This technology is the basis for two of the most advanced vaccines: Moderna's and Pfizer's.
This is how Moderna's vaccine was scheduled in just two days
At first, Moderna researchers were just looking for a quick way to reprogram adult cells and turn them into stem cells. They soon realized that they had something greater: the power to program the molecular system of cells.
The scientists created a kind of "library" with a set of "coded functional implementations" that allowed them to write and design small genomic programs (the synthetic mRNA) quickly and easily.
To do this, they first had to figure out how ribosomes read and synthesize proteins, as well as learn the "machine language" of mRNA. Then we had to find a way to write the instructions we wanted and "compile" it into synthetic RNA. The biggest proof that they succeeded is their coronavirus vaccine.
On January 10, 2020, the first SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing was made public. There was the description of the spike protein that, due to its particular characteristics, would be the target of the vaccine. The goal is to get the cells to produce this protein, so the immune system could identify it and generate immunity.
A group of Chinese scientists shared the coronavirus genome on this site on January 10. With this gesture, the race for the vaccine began: it allowed EVERYONE who is now developing vaccines to begin designing them. https://t.co/rAgSCRN0Fx pic.twitter.com/OR42Slbfaw- Federico Kukso (@fedkukso) October 5, 2020
A group of Chinese scientists shared the coronavirus genome on this site on January 10. With this gesture, the race for the vaccine began: it allowed EVERYONE who is now developing vaccines to begin designing them. https://t.co/rAgSCRN0Fx pic.twitter.com/OR42Slbfaw
- Federico Kukso (@fedkukso) October 5, 2020
It took Moderna just two days to design the RNA instruction that would make cells produce the coronavirus spike protein. However, the difficult part remained and they are still working on: verifying that this “masked” synthetic mRNA can be delivered safely and efficiently.
Therefore, if Moderna laboratories or Pfizer are successful, their achievement would be greater than preventing COVID-19, which is enough. They would be testing the power of a technology capable of changing medicine and the pharmaceutical industry as we know it.
Moderna's vaccine was 94.5% effective, while Pfizer's is 95%, according to phase 3 results.