A Nobel for life

*Award for precursors of anticovid vaccines

*Science responded to the biggest challenge

When last May the World Health Organization lifted the global emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, humanity breathed a sigh of relief. And it was no wonder, this marked the end of the most serious health contingency in the last century, to such an extent that at its peaks of greatest lethality and with hundreds and even billions of people subjected to strict quarantines, it was even feared extinction.

In the end, after three and a half years of crisis, since when the first case of the virus was detected in Wuhan (China) at the beginning of 2020, spreading in a matter of a few months to the five continents, the fatal toll amounted to about seven million deaths and more than 765 million infections across the planet. However, other calculations speak of much higher figures.

It is no secret to anyone that the tragedy was not greater, because the scientific community, in record time, and faced with the greatest challenge in modern history, managed to develop in a matter of a few months a series of effective vaccines against Covid-19. 19. Beyond the problems of access and inequitable distribution and the fight over patents, the truth is that, like never before, all human knowledge in medical matters was put at the service of a single cause: a biological capable of stopping the pandemic.

It is hardly obvious that the development of vaccines was not started from scratch. On the contrary, scientists made use of all the knowledge accumulated over decades. One of the most important, without a doubt, is messenger RNA technology, which had its first major advance in the 1970s and was destined to revolutionize the way of producing biologicals to combat diseases.

As is known, the first vaccines that were developed were based on the technique of weakening viruses in laboratories and then applying them to the person so that the immune system would detect it and create, from a cellular point of view, a response. to combat and neutralize the invader.

However, the messenger RNA procedure changed the paradigms. Present in all cells, it acts as a kind of intermediary between them and the genetic code of DNA. This allows the cell to produce specific proteins. What the precursors did in this research was to discover a technique to treat that Messenger RNA, modifying that code in the laboratory, in such a way that the cells are trained to reproduce proteins present in the virus, commonly called “antigens”, which the immune system learns to recognize and generates antibodies to neutralize them.

After several decades of progress in the development of this type of vaccines, the main problem continued to be some serious side effects due to problems at the molecular level. However, in 2000, Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó and American researcher Drew Weissman discovered a procedure that allowed this bottleneck to be overcome, marking a turning point in the production of vaccines and the development of therapies to combat different diseases. Precisely for this reason yesterday they won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, since their discovery was decisive in developing biologicals against covid. The Swedish academy said that the winners “contributed to the development at an unprecedented pace of a vaccine during one of the greatest threats to humanity’s health in modern times.”

This Nobel Prize, then, can be understood as a well-deserved recognition not only to Karikó and Weissman, but to all the scientists, pharmaceutical industry, medical staff, health personnel and vaccinators who, in the midst of the worst crisis in recent decades, They stepped forward and showed their worth in order to save lives and keep humanity afloat.