The year 2020 began with the news of mysterious pneumonia in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
On January 10, local scientists had already confirmed that it was a new coronavirus and had published its genetic sequence. On January 13, researchers from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American company Moderna had already designed a vaccine. When the vast majority of humanity had not even known of the existence of the virus, the solution was already on the way. The magazine Science, one of the temples of world science, has selected the first covid vaccine as the main scientific milestone invention of the year.
The story accelerated in those first days of 2020. On January 12, the Chinese dictatorship still claimed that there was no evidence that the virus was transmitted from person to person. On January 20, government experts confirmed human-to-human infections and shortly after decreed the lockdown of Wuhan. On January 30, the WHO declared the outbreak in China to be an emergency of international concern. On February 11, the virus was christened SARS-CoV-2. On February 23, the coronavirus caught on in Italy. On March 11, the WHO declared the pandemic. On March 14, the Spanish Government declared a state of alarm and limited the movement of citizens. On March 16, the Moderna company began the clinical trial of its experimental vaccine in humans.
The director of the journal Science, Holden Thorp, emphasizes that the new vaccines are the result of "decades of research"
"We cannot commit to dates or amounts yet, but we can commit ourselves to the fact that we are all dedicated to this, working 18 hours a day. We stopped just to sleep, "Spanish pharmacist Juan Andrés, Moderna's technical director, explained in an interview with EL PAÍS on March 21. The executive then affirmed that he did not believe that the vaccine could be ready before a year. He was wrong. Moderna announced on November 16 that its injection against covid is almost 95% effective, similar to that reported by the American Pfizer and the German BioNTech a week earlier. They were the first competitors to reach the finish line, pulverizing the previous record for the Ervebo Ebola vaccine, which took five years from the start of the human trials to its approval in November 2019. The widespread authorization of these two vaccines is imminent and others will soon arrive, such as the one developed by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which will simplify the fight against the pandemic in the poorest countries due to its lower price and its greater ease of conservation.
The editor of the journal Science, Holden Thorp, maintains that the milestone of the vaccines against the covid is a triumph of all science. "The dedication to the search for truth, to improving the human condition and documenting everything for posterity is common to all areas of science. And we have reached this moment thanks to these principles ", he celebrated in an editorial.
The director himself lowers his ode to science by recognizing "missteps", such as the initial rejection of the widespread use of masks, the reluctance to recognize the transmission of the coronavirus through the air, and the irregularities in some scientific studies. "There will be plenty of time for an exegesis of what went wrong. But now, what went well is much more important. And what turned out well is that the scientists worried and reorganized their lives to take the world to a better place ", applauds Thorp.
The two most advanced vaccines - Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna / NIH - are based on the same technology: a recipe written with genetic information (RNA) from the coronavirus for human cells themselves to make virus proteins with which to train without risk to the body's defenses. Both vaccines are the fruit of "decades of research," according to the director of Science. One of the essential steps was taken in 2005, when the Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó and the American immunologist Drew Weissman, from the University of Pennsylvania (USA), published a way to modify RNA that facilitated its safe use in vaccines. Canadian biologist Derrick Rossi co-founded the Moderna company in 2010 based on this knowledge. In Germany, two scientists of Turkish origin, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci founded BioNTech and in 2013 recruited Katalin Karikó herself to develop RNA-based drugs. When the coronavirus arrived, the two companies had their platforms ready to only have to add the genetic patent information of a new virus.