A Vancouver company is central to the news Monday morning that Pfizer is close to developing an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.
Vancouver-based Acuitas Therapeutics, a biotechnology company, is playing a key role through a technology known as lipid nanoparticles, which deliver messenger RNA into cells.
“The technology we provide to our partners is lipid nanoparticles and BioNTech and Pfizer are developing a vaccine that’s using a messenger RNA that tells our cells how to make a protein that’s actually found in the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Thomas Madden, president and CEO of Acuitas Therapeutics, told Global News Monday.
“But the messenger RNA can’t work by itself, it needs a delivery technology to protect this after it’s administered and then to carry it into the cells where it can be expressed and give rise to an immune response.”
Madden said they like to think of the lipid nanoparticles as protective wrapping around a fragile glass ornament being shipped to your house online. That protective wrapping would then make sure the ornament made it to your house, through your front door, then unwrap itself and leave in your hallway, ready for you to come and grab it when you came home.
The idea around using messenger RNA for vaccines is a new technology, Madden said, and the development of the COVID-19 vaccine is the “most important” clinical demonstration of the technology.
The use of lipid nanoparticles has been around for several years but has evolved over time, particularly as a delivery system for messenger RNA, Madden explained further.
He said they were very excited to see the announcement Monday morning from Pfizer and really proud of their contribution.
“It’s very good news,” he said. “Everybody was hopeful the vaccines would provide protection and this is the first demonstration that that is indeed the case.”
“This is a trial that is event-driven. Nobody knows when a certain number of individuals will be positive for COVID-19 and so we always knew that once an interim analysis was available it would be communicated and the news today is excellent.”
Acuitas Therapeutics employs 29 people and Madden said he believes everyone is feeling very proud of their work.
“Not many people are aware of the history of this technology and the fact that it originated in Vancouver,” he added.
“Dr. Pieter Cullis was one of the key scientists who brought together a team to develop this technology many, many years ago. UBC and Vancouver and companies associated with those scientists have been at the global centre of this technology for many years now.
“I think we’ve been looking for a light at the end of the tunnel for quite some time. I think everybody has been hoping that a vaccine would be able to provide the protection we need to move out of our current situation and I think this is now a confirmation that this hope wasn’t misplaced.”
Pfizer is now on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press the results suggesting 90 per cent effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”
“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said.
More than 1.2 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19.
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