mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic.
Synthetic mRNA, the ingenious technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, might seem like a sudden breakthrough, or a new discovery. One year ago, almost nobody in the world knew what an mRNA vaccine was, for the good reason that no country in the world had ever approved one. Months later, the same technology powered the two fastest vaccine trials in the history of science.
Like so many breakthroughs, this apparent overnight success was many decades in the making. More than 40 years had passed between the 1970s, when a Hungarian scientist pioneered early mRNA research, and the day the first authorized mRNA vaccine was administered in the United States, on December 14, 2020. In the interim, the idea’s long road to viability nearly destroyed several careers and almost bankrupted several companies.
The dream of mRNA persevered in part because its core principle was tantalizingly simple, even beautiful: The world’s most powerful drug factory might be inside all of us.