COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccines benefit from decades of research

May 25, 2022 -- A chance encounter at a photocopy machine about 25 years ago led Dr. Drew Weissman, PhD, an infectious disease expert at Penn Medicine, and former colleague RNA biologist Kati Kariko, PhD, to collaborate in what would become a critical technology used in some of today’s COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccines.

"When we started, RNA had been used in vaccines and in people and had failed. The clinical trials showed not good results and the pharmaceutical companies gave up on it," Weissman told at the conclusion of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) 2022 annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Inflammation was at the heart of the RNA problem decades ago, according to Weissman, who said he and Kariko were able to figure out how to make it noninflammatory. Their nucleoside-modified mRNA technology and other vaccine-related improvements have been used by both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech in the development of their COVID-19 vaccines.

"I always have to laugh when people tell me 'I'm nervous about the vaccine, they invented it in 10 months' and that's as far from the truth as possible," Weissman said. "We were working on RNA for 25 years. We developed modified RNA over 15 years ago ... It wasn't brand new. It was just in the right place that when COVID hit this was a vaccine platform that biotech companies had experience with."

Watch the video below to learn more.

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