Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Moderna’s mRNA vaccine reaches its final phase. Here's how it works.

The biotech firm's leading candidate has just entered phase three clinical trials in the U.S. Find out why this vaccine technology is promising—but not without its skeptics.

The surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is covered in protein spikes (red). Moderna’s messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine would teach the human body to recognize these spikes, allowing the body to produce an army of neutralizing antibodies (white) to stop the coronavirus before it can establish an infection.
Model at atomic resolution in by Visual Science

By Nsikan Akpan, National Geographic

A promising coronavirus vaccine candidate hit another milestone this week, when Moderna Therapeutics began phase three of clinical trials. The move signals the biotech company and the National Institutes of Health, which are collaborating on the trial, are one step away from bringing the drug to the public and commercial markets.

After nearly seven months of global deaths and economic shutdowns wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, people are anxiously awaiting a glimmer of hope for a return to normal routines. This partly explains the continued frenzy over vaccine development, including a candidate from the University of Oxford that also recently entered phase three in Brazil. (Read: Now that the Oxford vaccine has entered its final phase of COVID-19 trials, here's what happens.)

Moderna moved its candidate from the lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts to human trials in a record-setting 63 days, making it the frontrunner. On May 18, the company announced preliminary findings that healthy subjects had responded to its mRNA vaccine by producing “neutralizing antibodies.” Antibodies are the key sentinels made by the immune system to prevent infection by the coronavirus. Experts were quick to point out that the results applied to only eight people out of 45 in the trial. The company took another two months to release a peer-reviewed study with sufficient information to gauge whether phase one subjects had protective immune responses, which is widely considered by immunologists to involve more than simply producing antibodies.

The details that Moderna presented suggest that the company may be on its way to achieving something unprecedented: licensing the first mRNA vaccine for human use.  Read more >>