Efficacy, Phase III clinical trials, mRNA, monoclonal antibodies. These are terms formerly known only by scientists, biopharma employees, doctors, and biopharma nerds like me. Now, anyone who has followed the news during the covid-19 pandemic is familiar with these terms.
For generations, humans have had two types of vaccinations (there are more, but these are the two most widely used).
Live, attenuated vaccines contain a version of the living virus or bacteria that has been weakened so that it does not cause serious disease in people. Examples of live, attenuated vaccines include measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. If you get a flu vaccine in a nasal spray form, it’s this type.
Inactivated vaccines are made by inactivating or killing a germ in the vaccine creation process. The polio vaccine is an example and so is your annual flu shot. How many folks do you know that refuse to get a flu shot because they don’t want any influenza virus injected into their bodies?
Now, in the middle of a pandemic, we are getting a vaccine for covid-19 based on mRNA which doesn’t introduce the virus into your body at all.
Where did mRNA technology come from?
In the 1990s a scientist named Katalin Kariko was attempting to harness mRNA to fight disease, but the idea was too far-fetched to attract support or funding. After a decade she, and her collaborator Drew Weissman, figured out how to fix some of the problems encountered in their prior research. In 2005, the two collaborators began publishing papers on their discovery. Their papers caught the attention of two key scientists, one who would help found BioNTech (Pfizer’s partner) and the other would help start Moderna. More on the development of mRNA.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spikes of protein on each viral particle. These spikes help the viruses attach to cells and cause disease. The coronavirus vaccines are designed to help the body recognize these spike proteins and fight the coronavirus molecule that has them.
Let’s look at mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic Acid) because it is what makes the current covid-19 vaccinations work. Our bodies make mRNA all the time. mRNA is sent to the cytoplasm (substance inside our cells) where it serves as a blueprint to make proteins. Most of the time, the proteins that are produced are needed to help our bodies function. RNA is one of the three major biological macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life (along with DNA and proteins). One of the basics of molecular biology states that the flow of genetic information in a cell goes from DNA through RNA to proteins.
DNA > makes RNA > makes protein
Proteins play leading roles in the cell as enzymes, as structural components, and in cell signaling, to name just a few. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is considered the blueprint of the cell; it carries all the genetic information required for the cell to grow, to take in nutrients, and to reproduce.
RNA is the DNA photocopy of the cell. When the cell needs to produce a certain protein, it activates the protein’s gene, the portion of DNA that codes for that protein, and produces multiple copies of that piece of DNA in the form of mRNA. So, in simpler terms, mRNA is a replication of DNA that copies a specific DNA protein in mass quantities.
Everything said above leads us to the various covid-19 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines help our bodies develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without us having to get the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways to offer protection, but with all types of vaccines, the body is left with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes as well as B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that virus in the future.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give our cells instructions to make a harmless piece of the spike protein (see photo above) found on the covid-19 molecule. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside our immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.
Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.
It typically takes a few weeks for the body to produce T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes after vaccination. Therefore, it is possible that a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection. Your annual flu shot also takes about 3 weeks to become effective.
What might the future of mRNA look like?
John Cooke, MD, PhD. is working with Houston Methodist’s nanomedicine team to develop better delivery options for mRNA, and he sees its potential in many fields: cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, other infectious diseases and even rejuvenation.
Stephan Hoge, President of Moderna Therapeutics, told a group of investors in 2018 “all life that we know flows through messenger RNA. In our language, mRNA is the software of life.” What if mRNA was given therapeutically? In theory, it could prompt proteins to be made in your body. It would put the drug factory inside you.
We should keep in mind that mRNA research is in its infancy. The successful use of mRNA in the development of the covid-19 vaccines will likely spur further investment and development toward treatments for other diseases. mRNA is the software of life and will most likely play a big role in our future!
Keep an eye our for our mRNA biotech stock coverage.
Together We’re Strong,
The Traders News Team
Source: Traders News Source Editor, Mark Roberts