mRNA Vaccines

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Dr Margaret Liu, known as “The Mother of DNA Vaccines”, is President Emeritus of the International Society for Vaccines and scientific lead for the World Health Organisation drafting group writing guidelines on mRNA vaccines.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with Margaret about all things mRNA vaccines and how they came to play a role in the largest immunisation programme in recent times. We discuss vaccine manufacture and clinical trials, explore the advantages of mRNA vaccines, and find out about the well-timed biotechnology and engineering breakthroughs behind them.

About the guest

Dr Margaret Liu is an expert in the fields of gene delivery, vaccines, immunotherapy, and global health - having pioneered two important new technologies for vaccines and for treating cancer (DNA vaccines and bifunctional antibodies).

Previously the Senior Advisor in Vaccinology at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she is now the Chairman of the Board and President Emeritus of the International Society for Vaccines.

Margaret obtained an MD from Harvard Medical School and completed her clinical and research training at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and MIT.

Episode highlights

  • “The research for developing mRNA vaccines has been going on for over three decades. There were many different engineering pieces that have to all be brought together to make them work. We're really fortunate that the technology advanced to this stage in time for the pandemic.”
  • “It has actually essentially 20 to 30 years to find formulations that really work to deliver the mRNA into the right cells to make enough protein to be able to make vaccines.”
  • “It really is disciplines working together that has led to the success of mRNAs vaccines. It isn't usually just somebody in their own lab who has the insight, you really need to have different expertise and different perspectives at the interface of different disciplines.”
  • “The chickenpox vaccine took 28 years to develop. Now you can do it faster through genetic engineering. If you know the sequence of the virus and which proteins are the key ones, you can go to your lab and design that vaccine pretty quickly.”
  • “It's really important to note that there were not shortcuts taken in the COVID-19 vaccine trials. There are so many decades worth of work involved. It's largely a matter of how great the incidence of a disease is. If you're trying to test a vaccine and only one person out of a million gets infected every year, it's going to take a long time to show that the vaccine works.”
  • “I don't want to under emphasise that we keep being humiliated time and time again by these pathogens, by the viruses, and bacteria. We think we understand what should be important for a vaccine but sometimes that just doesn't work.”
  • “As it turns out, many people in medicine are also musicians. Music has been really important, not just as an escape, but it's a way to still be disciplining my mind but in a way that’s different.”

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

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