A group of Polish experts under the direction of Professor Andrzej M. Fal of the Medical College of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University have produced a white paper concerning the topic of COVID-19 vaccines. In the document, the team of experts explains how the mRNA vaccine which protects from the coronavirus was brought to market so quickly. In the publication , titled “Vaccines against COVID-19: Innovative technologies and their efficiency”, the specialists underlined that many companies had conducted clinical trials of mRNA vaccines for over 10 years. These are formulas which use ribonucleic acid (RNA) which codifies information concerning a particular protein.
In the case of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, this is the S protein which can be found in the envelope of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Initially, this technology was to be used in developing medicine useful for treating malignant tumors and rare genetic diseases. It was also tested in research on vaccines against other viruses. “This all explains why we received the first vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 so quickly and why the mRNA vaccines won this race. It also gives hope that work on this technology hastened by the pandemic will carry over to developments in treating other diseases in the near future,” the authors wrote. A breakthrough occurred when Hungarian-born US researcher Katalin Kariko alongside immunologist Drew Weissman proved, that the human immune system can be tricked. It turned out, that one only needed to change a single fragment in the mRNA for the system to tolerate it. The first successful trial involving mRNA as a “protein factory” was conducted in 1990 at the University of Wisconsin in the United States — the scientists stated that they had forced the cells of mice to produce proteins. For a long period, however, this method was unusable in creating medicine and vaccines for humans. The main reason was that alien mRNA immediately forces a strong immune reaction from the human body which destroys the mRNA. A breakthrough occurred when Hungarian-born US researcher Katalin Kariko alongside immunologist Drew Weissman proved that the human immune system can be tricked. It turned out that one only needed to change a single fragment in the mRNA for the system to tolerate it. This change did not influence the effect of mRNA itself.
The breakthrough was announced in 2005. The patent to use mRNA technology was sold to companies such as German BioNTech and American Moderna. The technology was at first attempted to be used to produce new medicine but when the pandemic broke out, it turned out that the technology was excellent in producing a COVID-19 vaccine. The Polish white paper points out that the first successful admission of mRNA to a human organism took place in 2009. In early 2020, it was decided that mRNA should be used in COVID-19 vaccines. mRNA is naturally used in cells to produce proteins. It transfers information concerning a particular protein to the ribosomes, where the protein is produced. When its role is finished and a protein is created, mRNA is degraded into smaller components within the cell through enzymes called ribonucleases. As a result of this process, nucleotides used by a cell are created. Meanwhile, mRNA vanishes and only the protein codified by it remains. The authors of the white paper emphasize, that this technology does not risk damaging DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) because mRNA does not enter a cell’s nucleus where DNA is located. After fulfilling its role, mRNA is quickly degraded into small, natural and harmless components. To achieve a therapeutic effect, only a tiny amount of the vaccine containing mRNA is needed — merely 30 micro-grams. This is an amount 100,000 times smaller than the amount of sugar in a teaspoon.