COVID Vaccines

The History of mRNA Vaccines

In the journal Nature, science writer Elie Dolgin writes in his recent article ‘the tangled history of mRNA vaccines‘ untangles the recent breakthrough Coronavirus mRNA vaccines, which was the result of many hundreds of scientists that had worked on mRNA vaccines for decades before.

In late 1987, Robert Malone performed a landmark experiment. He mixed strands of messenger RNA with droplets of fat, to create a kind of molecular stew. Human cells bathed in this genetic gumbo absorbed the mRNA, and began producing proteins from it.

R. W. Malone and Colleagues on Proc. Natl Acad. Sci (surce: Nature)

Fast forwarding to 2020, Dolgin writes “Those experiments were a stepping stone towards two of the most important and profitable vaccines in history: the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines given to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Global sales of these are expected to top US$50 billion in 2021 alone.”

The Covid-19 vaccine, that most of us got into our arms last year, went further innovations from other researchers in subsequent years to “modified RNA and different types of fat bubble to ferry them into cells” as shown below in the diagram.

Screenshot source: Nature

Malone told Nature that he was not given full credit for his initial contributions.

Still, Malone, who calls himself the “inventor of mRNA vaccines”, thinks his work hasn’t been given enough credit. “I’ve been written out of history.”

Robert Malone told Nature

Timelines of mRNA Vaccines

The following “the history of MRNA vaccines” timeline adopted from Nature article.

Image source: Nature

In the STAT article “The story of mRNA”, Damian Garde and Jonathan Salzman write “For decades, scientists have dreamed about the seemingly endless possibilities of custom-made messenger RNA, or mRNA. […] But turning scientific promise into medical reality has been more difficult than many assumed. Although relatively easy and quick to produce compared to traditional vaccine-making, no mRNA vaccine or drug has ever won approval.”

Katalin Kariko of University of Pennsylvania, whose work was recently awarded prestigious medical prize recently also known as “America’s Nobel“ was not even recognized was rejected for funding, write Damian and Jonathan in STAT.

Katalin Karikó spent the 1990s collecting rejections. Her work, attempting to harness the power of mRNA to fight disease, was too far-fetched for government grants, corporate funding, and even support from her own colleagues.

From STAT article

“We are one of the leaders in messenger RNA, but we don’t consider ourselves a messenger RNA company. We consider ourselves an immunotherapy company,” Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech and a professor at the Mainz University Medical Center, told STAT.

Coronavirus-19 vaccination watch

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID vaccination tracker page (as of October 14, 9 a.m.) 490,951,045 doses have been distributed and 405,444,558 doses administered. According MDH COVID-19 Response vaccine data (as of October 12) a total of 6,660,659 doses of Covid-19 (Pfizer & Moderna) vaccines have been administered in Minnesota. According to the MDH latest tally (as of October 14) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 752,060 (out of 13,074,178 tested) with 8,379 deaths.