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A Deep Dive On mRNA Vaccines

Excerpt from the Article:

February 11, 2021 | Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines were the focus of a symposium on COVID-19 vaccines held during last week’s COVID-19 and Cancer virtual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. To date, only two vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and both are mRNA vaccines—one developed by Moderna and the other by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Speaking on development of the Moderna vaccine was Randall N. Hyer, M.D., Ph.D., the company’s senior vice president of global medical affairs. Michela Locci, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, presented on the ability of mRNA vaccines to elicit potent germinal center (GC) responses associated with neutralizing antibody generation. This was followed by a lively Q&A session moderated by Deepta Bhattacharya, Ph.D., a member of the cancer biology program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine development program utilizes an advanced mRNA technology platform also being used to develop other medicines and vaccines, says Hyer. The approach uses DNA to make mRNA that instructs cells to make a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus, triggering an immune response and the production of antibodies.

The vaccine does not alter DNA, he says. It also does not signal for nuclear access or reverse transcription. It contains no adjuvant at all, says Hyer. Rather, the vaccine appears to trigger the innate immune system.

At the lymph node, B cells (derived from the bone marrow) and T (thymus) cells interact with the spike protein and develop an adaptive immune response, he explains. Once the mRNA and protein it produces have done their job, they degrade after a day or two.

The vaccine has been produced in large quantity and formulated with lipid nanoparticles that are 100 nanometers in diameter, Hyer continues. In animal models, it demonstrated robust COVID-19 neutralizing antibody response and prevented the replication of the virus in the airways.

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