mRNA surprise for novel coronavirus: A success story of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech

mRNA surprise for novel coronavirus: A success story of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech
FILE PHOTO: Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

A novel vaccine has been developed for a novel virus in just a span of one year and the people behind the success story are the scientists of Moderna, BioNTech, and Pfizer. Entirely new technology in the field of vaccines, the use of messenger RNA (mRNA), is considered as a breakthrough in scientific progress. Its efficiency needs no proof as data bears testimony to the powers of mRNA. However, the leads of this project recall that the beginning of the journey was not a very easy task.

mRNA surprise for novel coronavirus: A success story of Moderna and Pfizer

It all started when the news of the total shutdown of Wuhan, a Chinese Province, started circulating in the news. Moderna’s chief executive, Stephane Bancel remembered how one morning in early 2020 she realized that a pandemic was about to begin just like 1918. She was perplexed about the seriousness of the situation that only Wuhan knew.

mRNA surprise for novel coronavirus: A success story of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech

Moderna had been using messenger RNA technology since its foundation in 2010. But using it for an entirely new and sudden cause was a matter of concern. Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, said that to prove that vaccines could be an answer to the pandemic, was a huge challenge put forward to them.

To start with Phase 1 trials to face a global crisis, was a big question that Hamilton Bennett, Moderna’s senior director of vaccines had to face. It was only in March, after WHO declared the global pandemic, that people realized the need for vaccine trials to save them from the deadly virus.

BioNTech’s chief, Dr. Ugur Sahin, recalled that after going through a research article in the Lancet, that described an outbreak in China, was when he realized that the virus has already spread. It was at the end of January 2020, when he calculated that the viral spread was unstoppable.

His company was focused on cancer therapies at the time but was confident enough to start with the new project. Their earlier collaboration with Pfizer on studies of flu using RNA techniques, made him reach out to Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, and only in late February, he was determined that a vaccine treatment was the need of the hour.

Head of Pfizer’s vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said that they had already laid their hands on technologies like protein-based and viral-vector vaccines, however, the negative sides outweighed the positive ends.

Messenger RNA was a new area to be used in vaccines or drugs that made Bourla a little doubtful at first, but after further discussions with the BioNTech team, he was convinced. It was then that BioNTech and Pfizer decided to start working together towards their goal.

Many other companies also tried to enter the vaccine trial race in its earliest days. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca tried to focus on viral-vector vaccines and partnered with Oxford University. Companies like Sanofi and Novamax tried their wits in already proven protein-based vaccine technologies. Using the messenger RNA technique was a risk as it had never been used before as a vaccine but the determination of BioNTech and Pfizer scientists to come up with a way to use it to fight against the coronavirus is praiseworthy as they truly believed that messenger RNA was the way forward.

The technology which is relatively new could revolutionize the field of medical science but there were doubts as it is in the case of coming up with any new innovative idea. With the rapid rise in coronavirus cases around the globe, they were more determined than ever to tackle all these doubts and take the fight to the virus rather than waiting for its decline. The company’s success in creating such a vaccine with unprecedented data in such time constraint is what became a story for one of the greatest medical races in history.


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