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Dr. Pieter Cullis was selected as the 2022 Canada Gairdner International Award Winner




Science, health, technology

This award recognizes the contribution of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine to the basic technology.

Dr. Pieter Cullis, a professor at UBC, was awarded the 2022 Canada Gairdner International Award for his pioneering work in developing lipid nanoparticle delivery technology that enables highly effective treatment of mRNA such as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Was selected for.

The Gairdner Awards recognize scientists whose findings have had a significant impact on biomedicine and global health research. Many of the annual Canada Gairdner Award winners, nicknamed the Canadian Nobel Prize, have won the Nobel Prize.

“The work of Dr. Charis and his respected colleague has enabled the rapid availability of a highly effective and safe COVID-19 mRNA vaccine that has helped protect individuals during a pandemic.

Dr. Cullis was honored with Dr. Katalin Karikó, Senior Vice President of RNA Protein Replacement Therapy at BioNTech SE and Professor at Szeged University, and Dr. Drew Weissman, Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania. Co-contribution to the development of nucleoside-modified mRNAs to avoid immunogenic reactions and improve the translational properties of mRNA once it enters the cell.

Basics of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine

Developed by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is built on more than 30 years of established scientific research, including studies performed by Ph.D. Charis, Kariko, Weissman. Dr. Karikó and Weissman have discovered a way to manipulate mRNA, a molecule that carries instructions for making proteins, so that it can be used to produce the protein of interest after it has been introduced into human cells. In the process, despite challenges and skepticism from others, they saw the potential of RNA for vaccines and other uses. However, one major challenge remained. It is a method of introducing mRNA into the body in a way that is protected from degradation and can enter cells for protein production.

Dr. Charis, a pioneer in lipid chemistry and the formation of lipid nanoparticles, has been working on such packaging systems for the past 50 years. His basic research has led to many clinical applications of lipid nanoparticles, such as delivering anti-cancer drugs to cancerous tissues while limiting toxicity in normal tissues. In the case of mRNA, lipid nanoparticles are designed to form a protective bubble around the mRNA, allowing delivery inside the target cell. This technique is important for the efficacy of mRNA vaccines.

The success of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine suggests a path to similar vaccines against viral threats such as influenza and HIV. Clinical trials are already underway to test the mRNA vaccine to prevent transmission from Zika virus, chikungunya fever, and rabies infections.

“Great research is a collective effort.”

“I am honored to receive the Canada Gairdner International Award,” says Dr. Charis. “I am particularly honored to receive it with Drew Weissman and Kariko Catalin, who have made great efforts to achieve mRNA treatment.”

Dr. Charis also thanked his colleagues Dr. Thomas Madden and Dr. Michael Hope. The foundation of their lipid nanoparticle drug delivery technology was laid when he built it over 40 years ago. Cullis, Madden, and Hope, along with other UBC colleagues, have set out to develop a delivery system for small molecule drugs used in chemotherapy. In 2009, they launched UBC’s spin-off company, Acuitas Therapeutics, which is now a highly successful biotechnology company based in UBC.

“Good research is a collaborative effort,” says Dr. Charis. “I would be disappointed if I didn’t admit that the efforts of literally hundreds of people helped enable the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Participating in this story is truly unbelievable and the world It’s a good example of how important basic research is to enable new drugs that change the world. “




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