Derek Rossi: ‘I’ve always believed that mRNA would be a new therapeutic paradigm’
Julio Cesar Rivas
Toronto (Canada), June 24 (EFE). Canadian scientist Derek Rossi, Princess of Asturias Prize for Scientific and Technical Research and founder of Moderna, announced in an interview with Efe that he had always known that messenger RNA technology would be a “new paradigm” for fighting disease.
Rossi, who was born in Toronto 55 years ago where he studied molecular genetics, founded the biotech company Moderna in 2010 to commercialize one of his discoveries: the ability to transform and reprogram pluripotent stem cells.
The molecular biologist, then a professor at Harvard University, wanted to demonstrate the possibilities of using a modified version of messenger RNA (mRNA) to make cells produce specific proteins.
This discovery was used 10 years later by Moderna to create one of two mRNA vaccines against covid-19 that earned him the Princess of Asturias Prize for scientific and technical research along with six other scientists from around the world.
From Massachusetts, where he now lives, Rossi expressed to Evie his satisfaction with the award.
to Spain in October
“I am very happy. They told me I am one of the finalists. And they told me I will share the award with other scientists. I hope I can go to Spain! The ceremony is in October and I hope they will allow us to travel there because I love it. Spain.”
He added, “I have seen (Princess of Asturias Prize) winners in the past and they are a very distinguished group of scientists. Even if they are considered in the same company as these distinguished scientists, it is clearly a great honor.”
When Evie asked him if he expected the significance of his discovery when he began his investigation, Rossi answered without hesitation.
“To be honest, when I launched Moderna in 2010, I believed in the therapeutic potential of mRNA. I always really believed that it would become a new therapeutic paradigm and that it would transform human health for the better in very different pathological contexts.”
“But then again, did you imagine that the first major global application would be a pandemic? No. I didn’t expect that. But if I had used my imagination, I should have expected it because vaccination is the perfect application for mRNA.”
The Canadian scientist said he launched Moderna with genetic diseases in mind and still believes mRNA therapy can be used to respond to such problems.
Anti-science weather in the United States
“But if he had asked me 10 years ago, a vaccination against such a deadly global epidemic would not have been the first use it would have come forward,” he admitted.
A scientist like a Russian unashamedly admits his astonishment at the attacks on the world of science in the United States from the beginning of the epidemic until the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“I am Canadian living in the United States. And I was amazed to see how part of the political spectrum in America had turned against science and scientists. I thought it would be impossible to do in life because the scientist’s job is to reveal the truth of nature.”
“I was horrified when I saw at the beginning of the pandemic that one political party was against science and another party for it. And see how many political activists were not real or honest scientists and that science was not real. It was completely insane because it is the opposite of what science is” .
He stressed that “scientists are searching for the truth.”
He added, “Science is the collective work of many, especially when talking about new treatments. It’s a long journey. I’ve been an academic scientist and we have benefited from the work of others and of course others have used our work usually. It happens.”
Rossi added, “Messenger RNA vaccines are a product of biotechnology: Moderna, the company I founded in 2010 and BioN Tech. Without biotech companies and all these processes, we wouldn’t have those vaccines either. It takes an entire city. From discovery in the lab to the embrace of people.”
He continued, “It was luck that the technology was ready by the time the epidemic arrived. If the epidemic had happened three years ago, the technology would not have been ready enough.”
Next project: Snake Bites
Although Rossi left Moderna some time ago and is now president and CEO of Convelo, another company dedicated to finding treatments for patients with neurological conditions, he noted that he’s focused on finding a solution to an unusual problem that affects hundreds of people. People every year: snake bites.
“I think it’s something really important that no one pays attention to. About 150,000 people die every year from snakebites and another 450,000 are permanently maimed. And these people are the poorest of the poor,” Rossi said enthusiastically.
Before finishing, Rossi hoped for lessons the pandemic might have left, such as efforts to produce vaccines in record time, to inspire the search for solutions to other major global challenges, such as the climate crisis.
“I hope people will see this as an example of what can be done when we pool our collective resources and mental capacity to respond to another huge global challenge that we must face, which is the climate crisis,” he said.
“Our planet is already in trouble and suffering, so let’s move on and do something about it,” he concluded. EFE
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