Mahidol award winner pushes mRNA jab development

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Dr Drew Weissman, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who was recently awarded the 2021 Prince Mahidol Award for their work on Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, at an online forum jointly organised on Wednesday by the US embassy and the Thai Journalists Association. (Photo: Wassayos Ngamkham)

The development of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines is the way to go given their high efficacy and safety, said Drew Weissman, a physician-scientist best known for his contributions to RNA biology and whose work helped enable the development of effective mRNA vaccines, including the Covid-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech/Pfizer.

Dr Weissman, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said he is currently working together with Chulalongkorn University on developing a new mRNA Covid-19 vaccine called ChulaCov19.

He was among three medical doctors who were recently awarded the 2021 Prince Mahidol Award for their work on Covid-19 mRNA vaccines.

Scientists worldwide have been studying and developing mRNA vaccines for the past three decades, a number of which are now being used on patients to prevent several diseases while more are to come, he said.

”mRNA vaccines for allergy, cancer, HIV and malaria are on the way.

”The mRNA type of vaccine is highly effective and safe because it doesn’t cause any changes to human DNA and has no serious side effects on pregnant women,” he said.

He was speaking at an online forum jointly organised on Wednesday by the US embassy and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA).

Prof Kiat Ruxrungtham, the director of the Covid-19 vaccine development project of Chulalongkorn’s Center of Excellence in Vaccine Research Center and Development (ChulaVRC), said ChulaCov19 has already passed three phases of trials and now is moving toward the final phase.

”So far the vaccine candidate has proved to be safe and effective in protecting against various strains of the coronavirus that cause Covid-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant,” he said.

Around January next year, he said, his team will begin working closely together with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in getting the final stage of human trials started, presumably by the middle of next year when about 30,000 volunteers will be recruited for the trials, he said.

It is expected to take another year before ChulaCov19 wins final approval for use, he said.

That should be around the time 80% of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 already, so ChulaCov19 will likely be used as a booster shot and for injecting adolescents, he said.

This Covid-19 vaccine development project is aimed at improving access by the Thai people to Covid-19 vaccines, he said.

Concerns about Covid-19 remain as the vaccination rate in certain parts of the world such as Africa and the Pacific Islands is still well below 50% of the population, which is feared may leave room for new and even more virulent variants to emerge as outbreaks continue there.