Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022

Explained: What’s India's New ‘Indigenous’ mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine, How Does It Work

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology announced development of an indigenous mRNA Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

COVID-19 vaccination PTI Photo

The Hyderabad-based CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology on Friday announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine candidate based on mRNA technology. 

The vaccine candidate is currently in pre-clinical testing to see its efficacy to protect against the live coronavirus, according to a press release by CCMB. 

The study has so far produced an efficacy of 90 per cent in preventing SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease, from latching onto the human cell, as per the press release. 

Here is all you need to know about this vaccine candidate, the mRNA technology it uses, and its claim of being indigenous. 

How do mRNA vaccines work

mRNA vaccines use mRNA created in a laboratory to teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are other vaccine types as well, such as vector vaccines and inactivated vaccines.

In vector vaccines, genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 is placed in a modified version of a different virus –vector– and when it gets into our cells, it delivers genetic material from SARS-Cov-2 and gives our cells instructions to make copies of the Spike protein, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

An inactivated whole virus vaccine, such as Covaxin, contains SARS-CoV-2 particles that have been chemically deactivated –they cannot infect cells. These deactivated particles, however, still stimulate a protective immune response, according to Gavi. 

What’s known of CCMB’s mRNA vaccine

The CCMB said in its press release that they observed robust response in ongoing animal studies.

Rajesh Iyer, a scientist involved in the project, said, "We observed robust immune response against SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein in mice, upon administration of two doses of the mRNA. The anti-spike antibodies generated were found to be more than 90 per cent efficient in preventing the human ACE2 receptor binding to the coronavirus."

The ACE2 receptor is what’s used by the “spike” – in simpler terms, the protruding part of the virus – of SARS-CoV-2 to enter the human cell. 

The CCMB press release also highlighted what makes their candidate different from Gennova Biopharmaceuticals’ mRNA vaccine candidate.

"The developed technology is different from mRNA vaccine being developed from Gennova Bio, which is based on self-replicating RNA," said Dr Madhusudhana Rao, the CEO of Atal Incubation Centre at CCMB.

CCMB claims it’s indigenous candidate

While Pune-based Gennova are also making an mRNA coronavirus vaccine, they are collaborating with an American partner and are working on a licence-basis, which means it cannot be called completely Indian. 

The CCMB calls their candidate indigenous. Their press release said, “The mRNA vaccine technology so developed, is indigenous and devoid of any technology contributions from elsewhere.” 

However, there appears to be a catch with this claim. While they say it’s indigenous, they have also said that they have taken the technical know-how from Moderna, the American company which has been at the forefront of mRNA vaccines. 

Deccan Herald quoted Dr Rao as saying, “We used the technical know-how from Moderna to establish our own mRNA vaccine technology and develop the homegrown mRNA vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2.” 

Dr Rao, the CEO of the centre that worked on the vaccine, is not concerned about any challenge from Moderna. 

“We are not expecting any challenges from Moderna. As far as we understand, their patents are not protected in India,” said Dr Rao, when questioned about patent rights by Deccan Herald.