mRNA Covid vax scientist Weissman working on universal coronavirus vaccine

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University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine’s Dr Drew Weissman and his team are on a quest to develop a universal (Covid-19) vaccine. Moreover, he and his team are now building mRNA production sites across the globe, and have spoken to people in India about building such sites.

Drew Weissman, the man behind the development of an effective mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, and his team at Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine are working on developing a universal vaccine.

Speaking at BioAsia 2022, Weissman, professor at the department of medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, said that they have already developed a ‘couple of candidates’ and that they are showing ‘promise’. They are protecting against every variant that has come out so far, he claimed.

“The variants are going to keep coming as long as there is widespread infection. We have only vaccinated 15 percent of Africa, and immunized low levels of many countries in the world. Until the world is fully vaccinated, the variants are going to keep coming,” he said.

Weissman added that there are two options – one is to make a new vaccine every time there is a new variant, “but then by the time we are done making the vaccine”, the variant may have gone. The second option is to make a pan-vaccine.

“What we are doing is we are making a pan-that will protect against any bad coronavirus. There have been three coronavirus epidemics in the past 20 years and there are going to be more in the future. We want to make a vaccine that would stop any bad coronavirus from infecting the humans,” Weissman said.

Whether we would need to take booster doses, Weissman said that it was not yet clear whether we would need boosters every year or every ten years.

Speaking about spreading the mRNA technology across the globe, Weissman said that at the beginning of the pandemic, researchers from Thailand had approached him saying that any vaccine which is made in the West will take years before South East Asian countries can have it. “They are making their own production center with money from their government. In early spring of 2020 we started working on the vaccine and a GMP production site. That vaccine is now in phase 3 clinical trials and it will be going to patients soon. This vaccine is being produced in Bangkok, and we are collaborating with all of South Asia.

Weissman elaborated that he and his team is already working on GMP production site in South Africa, talking to countries in South America Kazakhastan etc. “We have also spoken to people in India as well for building mRNA production sites,” Weissman said.

He feels that the advantage of mRNA platform is that it can offer low cost solutions – for example the cost of gene therapy for sickle cell anaemia patients is a few million dollars, while the cost could be as low as a few thousand dollars with mRNA tech.

He also added that the mRNA platform had many other future possibilities – from vaccines to therapeutics.

For example, vaccines for HIV, Hepatitis C, Malaria, TB, allergies like food, environmental allergies (peanuts or dust mites) etc can be developed using this technology platform.

Moreover, cancer vaccines, auto-immune diseases, therapeutics for genetic disorders (like sickle cell anaemia) etc can be developed using mRNA tech.

Weissman is also acknowledged for his contributions to the development of various vaccines including Covid19, universal flu vaccine, herpes vaccine etc.

The nucleoside modified mRNA lipid nano-particle vaccine platform that Weissman’s laboratory created is used in the first two approved Covid19 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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