B.C. scientist wins prestigious national award for work on mRNA COVID-19 vaccine | Globalnews.ca


A British Columbia biochemist whose work performed a key position within the growth of COVID-19 vaccines has been honoured with one in every of Canada’s most prestigious scientific awards.

Biochemist Pieter Cullis, former director of UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, was named a winner of the 2022 Canada Gairdner Worldwide Award on Tuesday.

He was honoured alongside Katalin Karikó, senior vice-president of RNA Protein Alternative Therapies at BioNTech SE and Drew Weissman, director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation, for his or her work growing the vaccine’s mRNA engineering.

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“It’s astonishing, actually,” Cullis informed World BC Morning on Friday.

“This actually displays the work of lots of of individuals. I had the privilege of main some fairly profitable teams, however that is actually a gaggle effort and a really collaborative endeavour.”

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Know-how developed over many years by Cullis and his colleagues was used within the Pfizer-BioNTech messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.

Scientists have been working with mRNA, which may direct cells within the human physique to provide proteins for many years, however one of many key challenges in its use in drugs was tips on how to ship it safely into cells.


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That’s the place Cullis’ work was necessary. Cullis and UBC colleagues pioneered the event of lipid nanoparticles, tiny droplets of fats that work to create a “bubble” round mRNA and permit it to journey to cells within the physique.

“You want a supply system each to guard it from the exterior setting and likewise to hold it throughout the cell membrane. With out a supply system, the mRNA wouldn’t get into the cell, and subsequently not make the protein it codes for,” Cullis defined.

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In contrast to conventional vaccines, which contain using an inert type of a virus, messenger RNA vaccines work by instructing human cells tips on how to create a protein that triggers an immune response.

Within the case of COVID-19, they direct he cells to provide proteins that mimics the spike protein that permits the SARS-SoV-2 virus to work together interact with our cells.

Messenger RNA analysis itself has been ongoing because the Eighties.

Cullis and B.C. researchers have been engaged on lipid nanoparticle know-how for many years, and in 2009 he and colleagues Thomas Madden and Michael Hope launched a non-public firm, Acuitas Therapeutics, which later partnered with Pfizer-BioNTech to develop their mRNA vaccine.


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These many years of labor, Cullis stated, belies the favored false impression that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have been developed “in a single day.”

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“That is work that has been occurring in my laboratory and others for over 25 years now,” Cullis stated.

“It actually is a distinct type of vaccine, nevertheless it’s not one you may say has been developed in a single day. This has been a gradual enchancment in know-how in order that we are able to really use nucleic acid polymers as therapeutics.”

Cullis stated he believes the know-how used within the vaccine has huge potential, and will in the future be used to deal with different illnesses together with most cancers.

It’s a possible the Gairdner Basis additionally noticed, noting the honorees “pivotal discoveries even have the potential to revolutionize the long run supply of efficient and secure vaccines, therapeutics and gene therapies.”

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UBC president Santa J. Ono praised the work of Cullis and his crew as essential to the vaccine’s growth.

“The work of Dr. Cullis and his esteemed colleagues enabled the speedy availability of extremely efficient and secure COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, which has been instrumental in defending people in the course of the pandemic,” Ono stated in an announcement.

“We’re extraordinarily happy with Dr. Cullis’ huge contributions to biomedical and international well being analysis and congratulate him on this well-deserved honour.”

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The Gairdner Basis was established in 1957, and since then it has handed out greater than 400 awards in a wide range of well being classes to recipients from 40 nations.

Profitable it’s usually seen as a precursor to being awarded a Nobel Prize: to this point, 96 Gairdner winners have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.


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