COVID-19Event Report

Future of pancorona virus vaccine

Dr Drew Weissman talks about mutations, mRNA technology, new vaccines and production sites in India at 19th Bio Asia

The 19th edition of BioAsia recently held a special fireside chat, which witnessed a revolutionary revelation on the future of the coronavirus vaccination by Dr Drew Weissman. In a conversation with Dr Sangita Reddy,
MD, Apollo Hospitals, he elaborated extensively on the pancorona viruses, the state of costs in healthcare, and the future of mRNA in therapeutics. A globally-renowned researcher in mRNA technology for the rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Weissman, in collaboration with Dr Katalin Karikó, discovered the ability of modified nucleosides in RNA to suppress activation of the innate immune sensors and increase the translation of the nucleoside-modified mRNA. This outstanding discovery was used in the first two approved COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna.

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“When you inject mRNA, it kills the tissue due to severe inflammation. But we developed a new type of RNA that is not inflammatory – this RNA used in vaccines is incredibly effective and safe. Over a billion people received the RNA vaccines so far and there have been almost no adverse events,” he said during BioAsia 2022. Dr Weissman continues to develop other vaccines to induce potent antibody and T-cell responses with mRNA-based vaccines. Speaking on the development of future vaccines, he said, “We are working on many different vaccines for a variety of pathogens including HIV, HCV, HSV, malaria, influenza, and pancorona viruses. We are also working on vaccines for food allergies, cancer vaccines, autoimmune diseases, therapeutics and In vivo gene therapy.”

Dr Sangita Reddy touched base on the immediate next big scare – COVID’s next mutation after Delta and Omicron. Dr Weissman observed that coronavirus like any other RNA virus is prone to a lot of mutations.
“The variants are going to keep coming as long as there’s widespread infection. We have only vaccinated 15 per cent of Africa and we’ve immunised low levels of many countries in the world. Until the world is fully vaccinated, the virus will continue to mutate,” he stated. There are two options here, observes Dr Weissman, you can keep making new vaccines every time there is a new variant. But it is important to note the low life span of these variants to keep up with this cycle.

“We are making a pancorona virus vaccine, which will protect against any coronavirus. There have been three coronavirus epidemics in the past 20 years and there are going to be more. So, we want to create a vaccine that
will stop any coronavirus from infecting humans. We are developing a few and they look promising”, he said. The future of mRNA technology is noted to be tremendously promising, with an array of uses. It can also be used in therapeutics. Dr Weissman and his lab envision developing mRNA therapy for neurologic events, strokes, embolic events, as a way for reducing inflammation. “My biggest hope is its use in gene therapy. Someday, it might be possible to treat genetic diseases like Cystic fibrosis,” he told.

Dr Weissman also indicated an optimistic outlook for India in terms of collaborations to build mRNA production sites. In his closing remarks, he voiced strongly against the misinformation on vaccines. He further added, “On a societal and systematic level, equality of therapeutics is important. Cost being the main problem, government and privately funded research can magnanimously help in bringing down costs and make it accessible across the world.”

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