2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Sciences honors three scientists for developing mRNA vaccines against COVID-19

TAIPEITaiwan , June 18, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — After the 2014 and 2016 winners of the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Sciences were crowned Nobel Prizes in 2018 and 2020 respectively, this category has continued to garner a lot of attention around the world. After a long wait, the names of the last winners were finally announced at ten o’clock (GMT+8) in the morning June 19. This year’s prize was awarded to three scientists who have played critical roles in the development of mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2: Katalin Kariko, Drew Weismanand Peter Cullis“for the discovery of key concepts and approaches in vaccinology, leading to the successful development of an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine,” according to the selection committee citation.

2022 Tang Prize Winners in Biopharmaceutical Sciences

Since November 2019 When the pandemic started, COVID-19 had disrupted everyone’s life for more than two years, posing a serious threat to human health and life and causing severe damage to the global economy. World Health Organization statistics show that to date more than 530 million COVID infections and around 6.3 million deaths have been recorded worldwide. Fortunately, it took less than 12 months for Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to successfully develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. As a result, millions of lives have been saved, to which the groundbreaking contributions of these three winners cannot be ignored. While Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman found a way to reduce immunogenicityI mRNA, Dr. Cullis is credited with the design of lipid nanoparticles for the delivery of mRNA vaccines.

There are two major challenges when it comes to delivering RNA into the human body. First, RNA triggers innate immune responses. Second, it is easily degradable and therefore difficult to reach target cells or organs. The new platform developed by these three scientists is a modified nucleosideii mRNA-based vaccine that can evade the immune system, preventing the severe inflammation that occurs when in vitro– transcribed mRNA is recognized by immune cells. These mRNA molecules are encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles and efficiently delivered into cells. They then instruct the cellular machinery to produce harmless bits of spike proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus and initiate a series of adaptive immune responses such as triggering B cells to produce antibodies and forming T cells to attack the virus. infected cells.

The groundbreaking discoveries of the three laureates and the ingenious approaches they pioneered are essential to the rapid and successful development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. These techniques not only revolutionized vaccinology, but also marked a paradigm shift in protein therapy. They represent the advent of a new era of RNA-based therapies. Unlike traditional methods that take a lot of time and money to develop vaccines, these new mRNA techniques turn cells into factories where proteins that serve as antigens or therapeutic molecules can be produced. Mass production of vaccines at relatively low cost has become possible. In addition, they can be applied to fight against various diseases, such as the development of vaccines against other viruses, tailor-made vaccines against cancer, vaccines against HIV or vaccines against allergic diseases.

Dr. Kariko studied in Hungary and moved to the United States in 1985. She was particularly interested in RNA and its chemical synthesis for efficient protein expression in cells. in vitro and live. With systematic rigor, she solved several problems related to the use of RNA in vaccinology and therapeutics. During the 1990s, as an associate research professor at University of Pennsylvaniashe dedicated herself to the development of in vitro-transcribed messenger RNA (mRNA) for protein therapies. To do this, she needed to understand the mechanism of the RNA-mediated immune response. With her colleague, Dr. Weissman, she showed that mRNA is recognized by Toll-like receptorsiii, thereby participating in the innate immune response, and injection of mRNA into animals has caused severe inflammation. However, they found that if mRNA nucleosides were modified like selected nucleosides in natural RNA, mRNA did not elicit such responses. Eventually, they were able to identify the major changes. This critical discovery allowed them to create stealth RNAs that do not cause inflammation. Since 2013, Dr. Kariko has been associated with BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, first as Vice President and as Senior Vice President in 2019. She has also been involved in the development of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research at University of Pennsylvania, where he opened his laboratory in 1997 to develop an HIV vaccine. Prior to that, he worked at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) on HIV-related research. Together with Dr. Kariko, he began to study RNA as vaccines. In 2005, they published their seminal finding that nucleoside-modified RNAs are not immunogenic. Since then, Dr. Weissman has been actively engaged in applying this technology to the development of RNA vaccines against infections with viruses such as HIV and Zika virus. The collaboration between Dr. Weissman, an immunologist, and Dr. Kariko, an RNA technology scientist, has led to many important discoveries. Together they hold the US patent for the application of non-immunogenic nucleoside modified RNA that laid a solid foundation for the development of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna covid-19 mRNA vaccines.

Dr. Cullis, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, is a pioneer in the development of lipid nanoparticles and a professor at the University University of British Columbia. He is also a leader in the studies of membrane structure and function at the molecular level for the development of effective therapeutic agents. He has created nanoparticles composed of pH-sensitive cationic lipids that can induce the formation of non-bilayer structures and can transport anionic macromolecules based on DNA and RNA. Therefore, we can make these nanoparticles encapsulate and store nuclear acid drugs and release them into cells. This is essential in the development of RNA-based vaccines, as RNA is quite unstable and difficult to efficiently deliver into cells. Dr. Cullis has primarily focused on the roles of lipids in membranes using model membrane systems that have helped give rise to liposomal nanoparticle (LN or LNP) systems designed to deliver conventional and lipid-based drugs. nucleic acid. His classic papers have been cited more than 2000 times each, and a large percentage of the FDA-approved or emergency medical use of lipid nanoparticles has relied on the technology he invented. Using his new technology, Dr. Cullis became the founder of 11 companies. In 2014, he began a collaboration with Dr. Weissman, who was working with BioNTech on RNA vaccines, and Dr. Cullis’ expertise was crucial in creating a vaccine delivery system.

About the Tang Prize
Since the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, the wealth gap and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. In this context, Dr. Samuel Yin created the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law. Every two years, four independent and professional selection committees, including many internationally renowned experts, scholars and Nobel laureates, select as Tang Prize laureates individuals who have influenced and made substantial contributions to the world, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or sex. A cash prize of NT$50 million (about. $1.7 million) is assigned to each category, with NT$10 million (about. US$0.35 million) that this is a fellowship intended to encourage professionals in all fields to examine the most pressing needs of humanity in the 21st century and to become leading forces in the development of society humanity through their outstanding research results and active civic engagement.

I Immunogenicity refers to the characteristic of a molecule that induces immune responses, including the production of inflammatory cytokines.
ii Nucleosides are glycosylamines made up of a nitrogenous base attached to a pentose sugar (ribose or deoxyribose). Based on their chemical structures, nucleosides can be divided into two classes: ribonucleosides and deoxyribonucleosides. When a nucleoside joins with a phosphate group, it forms a nucleotide, which is the basic unit of DNA and RNA.
iii Toll-like receptors are once-through transmembrane proteins. They can recognize invading microorganisms or molecules associated with damage and activate the immune response. They play a key role in our innate immune system.

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SOURCE The Tang Prize Foundation

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