Before most Americans fretted or even knew of the coronavirus, the design of Moderna’s vaccine model was invented in two days.
The development process made Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech collaborative effort more known recently because of the companies’ trials that showed their COVID-19 vaccines to be 94.5% and 95% effective, respectively. But the historically fast creation dates back to January, when the design was made in two days because of Moderna’s synthetic technology for messenger RNA vaccines.
“What you could probably do is make this a whole new way of making drugs, vaccines, almost anything,” Moderna co-founder Bob Langer previously told Business Insider.
The vaccine injects a small piece of genetic material, messenger RNA, that uses codes to instruct cells how to produce proteins. That spike in protein creates an immune response. Pfizer also used messenger RNA technology for its rapid development of a vaccine.
It is a science that Katalin Kapiko, now a senior vice president for BioNTech, began developing in the 1990s, with roadblocks and job demotions.
By using messenger RNA, the pharmaceutical giants did not need to grow and culture a live virus in laboratories. That trimmed development time significantly because Moderna and Pfizer only needed the coronavirus’ genetic sequence to pursue a vaccine. In the past, the vaccine development process has taken years.
“I worry about innovation at the expense of practicality,” vaccine authority Peter Hotez told STAT. The National School of Tropical Medicine dean at Baylor College of Medicine said the federal vaccine program is “weighted toward technology platforms that have never made it to licensure before.”
But if Moderna and Pfizer have bet right, they have found a way to make an in-body pharmacy.