It is said that the night is darkest just before dawn. Right now it is certainly very ark and therefore it gives hope for a bright day ahead. There are more and more contagious variants coming out of the SARS-CoV-2 in the UK and South Africa, making the pandemic worse than before. But the vaccines in line are being hopeful not just in defeating the Covid but also one of the most spreading diseases these days- cancer.
How does the Corona Vaccine Work:
There are two vaccines right now, Pfizer and Moderna, both of which use the mRNA theory. The mRNA vaccines or normally called the messenger RNA vaccines or nucleic acid vaccines instruct the body itself to create or produce the offending proteins which would wrap around the viral RNA of the SARS-CoV-2. The immune system then homes in on these antigens, practicing for the day when the same proteins show up with the coronavirus attached.
Its working is contrary to the ordinary vaccine mechanism where weak viruses are injected into the body that stimulates the immune response which later helps in protecting the body against the live pathogen. But the process requires cell cultures and chemicals and may also provide conditions for contamination.
So the mRNA is more promising as it can direct the human cells to make the required protein, which may include antigens of many other life-threatening diseases like cancer.
The mRNA takes instructions from DNA in the day-to-day functioning of the body. The genome is copied by the mRNA which carries them into the cytoplasm and makes proteins there with the help of ribosomes mRNA vaccine skips the entire procedure and directs the body to make what protein is required. As in this case, it would direct the cell to make a coat around the coronavirus. After this, they look at the sequence of amino acids to make this protein. From this, precise instruction to be given is decided.
Since the 1970’s researchers have had an instinct that the technique can be used to fight all kinds of maladies. But financial and time constraints kept creating problems and later in the 1990’s it became quite unfashionable. And the major problem found was whenever mRNA was injected into animals, they had serious inflammation.
An important breakthrough in the theory of mRNA was made by Katalin Kariko, who battled cancer for herself, even after being demoted and facing other setbacks. In the 2000’s she and her research partner realized swapping out uridine, avoided causing inflammation. Her work was read by a scientist at Stanford University, Derrick Rossi, who is the founder of Moderna.
This theory also caught the attention of Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, the oncologists’ couple, who co-founded BioNTech. They also hired Kariko as they were keen on treating cancer. They say that all the procedures used today to treat cancer will one day seem like flint axes kept in a surgery room.
mRNA will train the immune system of patients to fight specifically against the enemy without damaging other tissues of the body. The process finds the antigen, get the fingerprint, and reverse-engineer the cellular instructions which will target the culprit and allow the body to heal and rest.
The pipeline of Moderna and BioNTech includes trials for treating various cancers like- breast, skin, pancreas, prostate, brain, lung, and other tissues. They also want to cover other diseases from influenza to Zika to rabies. Earlier the investors were also less interested, but now they are hopeful that more investors shall invest money and time for trials and regulatory approvals.
The pandemic has turbo-charged all the processes and has led to the grand debut of mRNA vaccines and there are already rumors of a Nobel Prize for Kariko. Therefore it will become easy to get money, attention, and enthusiasm from the investors, regulators, and policymakers