So let’s have a closer look at the vaccine that will potentially soon be available to protect us from the Coronavirus.
We can look at the realities of what we are working with, get rid of some myths and look at the technology behind this vaccine.
First of all, many of you will be pleased to know that if the current vaccine proves to be successful, it has nothing to do with Bill Gates or his foundation.
The company that has been thrust into the limelight with the promising results is a German company called BioNTech which was started by a couple of Turkish descent who met at university in Germany.
BioNTech has been developing cancer treatments focusing on immunotherapy style treatment which is what the Keytruda drug is, you know the one that NZ can no longer afford to provide to lung cancer sufferers, but that is another story.
BioNTech teamed up with Pfizer (also not Bill Gates) to speed up the development of the vaccine.
So those of you who are concerned that Bill Gates is on the take with this treatment can be assured that, if the gates foundation is a shareholder of either company, that Gates’ holding is less than 1% owner of either company.
Are we part of an experiment?
The short answer to this question is yes. The technology that is being used for the vaccine is different to the traditional way of making vaccines.
Vaccines we are used to, typically contain the neutralised bug we are to be protected against. For the purposes of this article “Bug” includes virus’ and bacteria etc.
The vaccine being developed is from technology focusing on cancer and autoimmune treatment, being the hybridoma technique to produce what is called monoclonal antibodies. This technique uses messenger RNA (mRNA)
There is one factor that is quite interesting here. When it comes to the treatment of infectious disease this vaccine is the first of its kind.
“It’s a very unique way of making a vaccine and, so far, no (such) vaccine has been licenced for infectious disease.”
Prof. Isabelle Bekeredjian-Ding, Paul Ehrlich Institut, Germany
So in that way we are taking part in quite a large experiment.
But, before you get too concerned, let’s look at how mRNA works and what it has been used for.
The development of producing large numbers of antibodies through mRNA came about in 1975 with a breakthrough by Milstein and Kohler. Since this time monoclonal antibodies have entered almost every branch of biomedical research.
mRNA technology has become a multi billion dollar industry with applications for cancer treatment, autoimmune disorders (such as asthma), arthritis and even for heart attack sufferers.
Vaccinations work by training the body to recognise and respond to proteins created by the bugs that infect us. As stated earlier, this is traditionally achieved by injecting us with deactivated parts of the bug or the proteins they produce.
Here is a description from an interview with Prof Bekeredjian-Ding head of the microbiology division of Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institut, which provides scientific advice to companies
mRNA vaccines in contrast, trick the body into producing some of the viral proteins itself. mRNA vaccines, in contrast, trick the body into producing some of the viral proteins itself. They work by using mRNA, or messenger RNA, which is the molecule that essentially puts DNA instructions into action. Inside a cell, mRNA is used as a template to build a protein. ‘An mRNA is basically like a pre-form of a protein and its (sequence encodes) what the protein is basically made of later on,’
To produce an mRNA vaccine, scientists produce a synthetic version of the mRNA that a virus uses to build its infectious proteins. This mRNA is delivered into the human body, whose cells read it as instructions to build that viral protein, and therefore create some of the virus’s molecules themselves. These proteins are solitary, so they do not assemble to form a virus. The immune system then detects these viral proteins and starts to produce a defensive response to them.
Naturally it is cancer treatment which is a large driver of the technology and most of what has been learned about this technology is in the development of different cancer treatments.
Dr Ugur Sahin is the husband of the dynamic couple behind the biotech company that has developed the vaccine. Sahin stood up in front of a crowd of infectious disease experts two years ago and boldly told them that his technology could one day stop a global pandemic.
Will those words ring true?
So back to the question of are we part of an experiment. I.e. what are the risks.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people so far. It has shown to have a 90% efficacy and is in the late stages of human trials.
What is unknown about this treatment as a vaccine for the Corona virus is how long it will provide protection. Will it be a year? Will the 90% effectiveness wane rapidly over the months after you have received the two injections.
It is not known whether it could cause reactions in some people, whether it causes side-effects such as increased inflammatory responses like redness and swelling or, in the worst case, aggravates disease.
It is also hard to know if the treatment has worked for asymptomatic people
So, the reality is there is still a lot to learn with this treatment. While it is looking promising that we are in the dawn of a new infectious disease treatment, it seems that this technology still needs to go through some more scrutiny.
There will need to be a peer review process undertaken when the trials finish but like all medication there are always risks of side effects. lets hope they are not to damaging
The news is promising but still has a wee way to go before they can conclusively say it is the end of the Corona virus.
It will be interesting to see what the final results are from this testing phase.