RNA, a technology that has long met with skepticism
From the 2000s, several advances made it credible, and attracted the attention of biotechnology companies.
One of the very first studies on vaccination with synthetic messenger RNA was published by a French team in 1993. Its authors, Frédéric Martinon and Pierre Meulien, report in the European Journal of Immunology have succeeded in inducing, with synthetic mRNA coated in lipid spheres, an immune response against the virus responsible for influenza in mice. But the process, which seems difficult to reproduce, was not patented at the time.
“Until recently, the scientific and medical community did not believe in the potential of this technology”, observes Steve Pascolo, French immunologist who was one of the first to focus on vaccine RNA from 1998. “Contrary to prejudices, the molecule is very resistant in a test tube (it can be frozen or heated to 90 degrees), but fragile in the body where it is quickly destroyed, which guarantees its safety”, he explains.
Despite the skepticism of their peers, a handful of teams
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