By early 2020, concern was mounting about a new, deadly coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China.
The World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency just days before. There had been more than 400 deaths and more than 20,000 cases, most of those in China.
But the virus was spreading around the world. Deaths had occurred in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and the virus had been detected in the U.S. and Canada.
By early January of 2020, scientists in China had already sequenced the virus’s genome and made it public, allowing scientists to begin the research for a vaccine.
Scientists expected that could take years.
But, as a second case was confirmed in B.C. in early February, Thomas Madden, a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology who heads Vancouver-based biotech company Acuitas Therapeutics, flew to Germany.
Acuitas was in the business of creating lipid nanoparticles, microscopic biological vehicles that could deliver drugs — for example, to specifically target cancers in the body.
Just before the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Acuitas had been working with German companies BioNTech and CureVac on developing messenger RNA vaccines, a new frontier of vaccines. Early clinical study results on an mRNA vaccine for rabies that Acuitas was working on with CureVac had shown promising results.
In simple terms, the new mRNA vaccines teach the body’s cells to trigger an immune response using the virus’s genetic code, unlike traditional vaccines that use weakened forms of the virus itself to trigger the immune response.
In Germany, Madden met with the husband-wife team of BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin and chief medical officer Özlem Türeci, as well as German regulatory authorities, about what studies would be needed before starting a clinical testing program for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The idea was to pivot all existing efforts on various vaccines to create a vaccine to fighting the coronavirus with the help of Acuitas’ lipid nanoparticles delivery vehicle.
They did just that…
Image Credit: Jason Payne /PNG
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