The COVID Vaccine, 50 Years in the Making
Back in the 1970s, a Hungarian scientist named Katalin Kariko began working on mRNA therapeutics, but her research was believed to be too radical and a financial risk. Years later, she moved to the U.S. and found better support. It was then that Kariko developed a vaccine approach using synthetic mRNA, which became the basis for today’s most effective COVID-19 vaccines.
This is why it’s incorrect to think that COVID vaccines may be dangerous because they were developed too quickly. In fact, thanks to decades in the making of the mRNA approach, the two vaccines that were reviewed by the FDA last December were actually developed within 48 hours in January 2020. Those scientists didn’t even have samples of the virus yet. They simply used the virus’s sequence – which is digital information about the viral genome – that the Chinese published online on Jan. 11, 2020. It took nearly a year to conduct the clinical trials necessary to test safety and efficacy, and properly mass manufacture the vaccine, but actual vaccine development happened very quickly because of research that started back in the 1970s.1
With the scientific success of mRNA therapeutics, researchers are encouraged about where this science can be applied next, with potential applications for flu, malaria, cancer and multiple sclerosis vaccines.
It just goes to show that careful planning decades in advance can be highly productive, even though it may not feel that way. It’s one of the reasons insurance is a highly underrated product. We buy it when we don’t need it, or we may not need it for a year, decades – or ever. But when we do need it, boy, we are happy we had that foresight long ago. If you’re looking for help to secure your financial future via insurance products, give us a call.
The more you read about why and how quickly the world developed a vaccine for COVID, the more fascinating it gets. The U.S. isn’t the only country that jumped into this project. The pandemic started in other countries and made its way here, so this has been a worldwide scientific effort. A survey of researchers in Canada, Europe and the U.S. found that 32% immediately shifted their focus toward the pandemic.
It wasn’t just vaccine producers, either. Neuroscientists who are experts in the sense of smell began to study why COVID‑19 patients tend to lose theirs. Physicists began making models of infectious diseases to help inform policy makers. Scientists focused on how the disease could be spread, including how long it would remain on different types of surfaces. Some focused on diagnostic tests, especially how to reduce the time to produce accurate results, while others studied how to create effective vaccines.
Throughout history, no other disease has ever been scrutinized so intensely by so many different types of scientists and researchers in such as short amount of time. Perhaps one of the longest lasting effects will be that this intense study of SARS‑CoV‑2 pathogens will serve to deepen the understanding of other viruses – hopefully making us better prepared in the wake of future pandemics.2
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are based on mRNA-based therapeutics, offer tremendous opportunity for vaccines and treatments for cancer and other conditions. The mRNA approach can be engineered to produce antibodies that target specific tumor antigens, based on individual immune cells. In other words, immune cells are removed from the body, re-engineered with mRNA tailored to a patient’s specific cancer, then injected back into the body.3
Customizing personal treatments is the genesis of an emerging industry called precision medicine. Disease treatment and prevention takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person. We already use this approach to some extent. For example, we match a donor’s blood type to the recipient for blood transfusions to reduce the risk of complications. As precision medicine advances, doctors will be better able to match treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease among different groups of people.4
1 Mark Terry. BioSpace. March 30, 2021. “After About 50 Years, the mRNA Revolution is Here.” https://www.biospace.com/article/the-mrna-revolution-is-here-and-it-took-about-50-years/. Accessed April 15, 2021.
2 Ed Yong. The Atlantic. January/February 2021. “How Science Beat the Virus.” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/01/science-covid-19-manhattan-project/617262/ Accessed April 15, 2021.
3 Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Jan. 27, 2021. “mRNA research produced COVID-19 vaccines. Are cancer vaccines next?” https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/01/what-is-mrna. Accessed April 15, 2021.
4 US National Library of Medicine. Sep. 22, 2020. “What is precision medicine?” https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/precisionmedicine/definition/. Accessed April 15, 2021.
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