Institut Pasteur, 1961. Jacques Monod, François Jacob and André Lwoff are all three researchers and wonder about the operation of reading the genetic message. They hypothesize that in order to function, our cells need a “notice” in order to create the right proteins. Their work therefore makes it possible to develop a molecule whose main mission is to transmit the correct genetic code to each cell. This scientific advance will give them in 1965 the Nobel Prize for medicine. This is the start of messenger RNA, which will subsequently be the subject of much additional research before the turn of the year 1997.
Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko meets immunologist Drew Weissman, with whom she succeeds in perfecting the so-called messenger RNA technology. In 2005, they jointly discovered a method to prevent the inflammatory response to mRNA, which until then had panicked the immune system. This modification had a particular resonance in 2020, with the arrival of the coronavirus. For the first time, a vaccine strategy never used before in human medicine is used in the fight against Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19.
Soon a vaccine from Sanofi?
Concretely, the vaccine of Pfizer / BioNTech (which today employs Katalin Kariko) like that of Moderna, is based on the intramuscular injection of a messenger RNA encoding the envelope protein of Sars-CoV-2. In other words, it involves forcing our cells to produce a piece of the virus that will not make us sick, but will simply train our body to defend itself.
Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna are currently the only laboratories in the world to offer an mRNA vaccine against Covid-19. On Tuesday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced the launch of a “continuous review” procedure for Sanofi Pasteur’s vaccine, also using messenger RNA. If it sees the light of day, 60 years after the first works of Jacques Monod, François Jacob and André Lwoff, the circle will be complete.