What is mRNA and who invented the technology? – NBC New York

Recognized for the rapid development of a life-saving vaccine, scientists Dr Katalin Karikó and Dr Drew Weissman accepted an award in front of dozens of their peers celebrating the duo’s tireless efforts to invent the mRNA technology behind the COVID-19 vaccine .

Tuesday in Manhattan, in collaboration with the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Molecular medicinethe Ross Prize honored the two biomedical researchers who have made a difference during the COVID pandemic.

Dr. Weissman, a physician and researcher at Penn Medicine, is leading various projects, including a pan-coronavirus vaccine to prevent the next COVID outbreak.

Dr. Karikó is a Hungarian-American biochemist and researcher at Penn Medicine and senior vice president of BioNTech, a German biotech company that collaborated with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to create the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine.

“As you hear in my presentation, it’s not just me and Drew, but we agree that hundreds of scientists have contributed to the outcome that we have the vaccine. Yes, we weren’t giving up, but many scientists are like us,” Dr. Karikó said in his acceptance speech.

For decades, Dr. Karikó has been analyzing messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is essential in various biological roles, including gene regulation and expression.

Kariko and Weissman first met in 1998 on a photocopier as the two reviewed scientific journals at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, they were both experimenting with ways to generate vaccines.

With similar interests in mind, the two quickly began collaborating on ideas that eventually, years later, laid the groundwork for rapid development of the current Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Influence of the scientific community

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine was first authorized for emergency use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2020, followed by Moderna’s vaccine.

Since the rollout began, 590 million doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered in the United States and nearly 12 billion doses worldwide, according to Our world in data. Children under 5 may soon be able to receive the first dose as early as June 21, once the FDA gives full clearance.

Faced with various challenges leading up to this breakthrough shot, Dr. Weissman recalls waiting almost 10 years to finally receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after rejection and skepticism about the mRNA technology from the part of prominent leaders – like Dr. Anthony Fauci – asking, “Why are you wasting your time? Why don’t you do something that might have an impact? »

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Before the awards ceremony kicked off, NBC New York spoke with the two world-renowned scientists about the next steps for the scientific community and the future of medical technology. Dr. Karikó hopes this honor will bring additional funds.

“Right now, of course, more money is being invested in the area of ​​RNA and messenger RNA and not just in academic institutions, but, of course, in large corporations, they are also investing more. Messenger RNA is more of an equalizer, mRNA is cheap to make, very fast,” Dr. Karikó told News 4.

It aims to revisit previous endeavors in treating disease with mRNA-based therapies.

Dr. Weissman said the mRNA trend is unstoppable and has taken over biotech, pharmaceuticals and academic labs around the world which, as he described, previously had no interest in mRNA. question.

“My lab makes vaccines for HIV, herpes, malaria, hepatitis C, and many other diseases. We make vaccines for food allergies, peanut allergies. We make vaccines for autoimmune diseases. immune cells, so there’s no limit to what can be done with RNA,” said Dr. Weissman, who is a strong believer in promoting equity in science around the world.

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