Covid vaccines are speculated to have a chance at the Nobel Prize

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Ahead of this week’s Nobel revelations, the discovery that paved the way for the covid vaccine is a talking point. The question is, is it already time for the technology behind the mRNA vaccines to be rewarded?Published: October 1, 2022, 2:09 p.mThey have played a decisive role in the fact that we now see the end of the pandemic, and already last year it was speculated whether a Nobel Prize would go to researchers who came up with the mRNA technology used in several of the vaccines against covid-19. Often it takes many years, sometimes decades , before a discovery is awarded a Nobel Prize. The reason is that you want to be completely convinced that the discovery and the scientific basis for it are correct, explains Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. “In general, it often takes time – not only to investigate the discovery, but also to see what an impact and importance it has.” At the same time, he points out that a number of discoveries received the Nobel Prize already five or six years after they saw the light of day. For example, the Japanese Shinya Yamanaka was awarded in 2012 for the discovery he published just six years earlier, that any cells in the body can be “reprogrammed” into immature stem cells that can then develop into other cell types, for example nerve or intestinal cells.”No one is happier than us when it is possible to give the prize quickly after a discovery was made, but everything depends on how science progresses”, says Thomas Perlmann.The Nobel Prize shall according to Nobel’s will is given to a discovery that “has done humanity the greatest good”. That should rightfully be said to apply to the mRNA vaccines, which have so far been given in hundreds of millions of doses worldwide and played a decisive role in slowing down the pandemic. But what role does it play that many people benefited from a discovery? Many times the prize in physiology or medicine rather goes to basic discoveries that have not yet contributed to, for example, new treatment methods. According to Thomas Perlmann, it is about a balance between rewarding, on the one hand, basic discoveries that increase the understanding of how we humans work, and on the other hand discoveries that are perhaps less fundamental but have had a major impact on human health.”There are no principles here, but everyone on the committee balances these things in their judgment.”If the mRNA vaccines were to become relevant, the next question is who or who would get the prize. A scientific discovery is rarely the work of one person. But Karin Loré, professor of vaccine immunology at the Karolinska Institute, has her opinion clear.” Katalin Karikó. She has set the tone for the development and made several fundamental discoveries that have been crucial for mRNA vaccines. She has been at the lab bench and is the brain and inventor behind it, although it is obviously a complex teamwork,” she says. Karin Loré thinks that mRNA vaccines are of the caliber that the discovery could be rewarded with a Nobel Prize.” The first scientific publication that showed that you can inject mRNA into a cell and make it express protein came in 1990, so it is not a new discovery. Since then, there have been many parts that needed to be developed. But it is a fantastic development and a product of long-term scientific work.”With the pandemic, the basic discovery of the mRNA vaccine has had the opportunity to show what they are for. And it went quickly. A decisive explanation for that is that resources from many different directions were suddenly directed towards the same goal.”Usually when you develop a vaccine, you take one step at a time and see if it works. Now they did everything at the same time, which means greater risks. But it was seen that there were big gains if it would work,” says Joakim Dillner, professor of infection epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet. One question is whether the ongoing disputes surrounding the mRNA vaccines affect the Nobel committee. Moderna accuses Pfizer/Biontech of having infringed on patents relating to the mRNA technology and of having “copied” Moderna’s vaccine and has taken the matter to court. In principle, such disputes do not play a role in the decision, according to Thomas Perlmann. “However, such disputes may reflect ambiguities about who made the discovery or how, and we are not immune to such signals.”

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