Education, Education, Vaccination

3rd April 2021

That feeling of finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright around Patently at the moment. Not only are we approaching the launch date for our latest release of Genetic family processing (watch this space for updates) but also, the majority of the team have now had their COVID vaccines and we’re starting to think about getting ‘back to normal’.

Conversations around the (virtual) conference table lately have all been about the vaccines, and it didn’t take long to realise none of us knew how or why it worked.

Luckily, in a previous life, several of us were patent searchers (and a number of us are still certified QPIPs), and having spent many years as patent searchers, researching new technologies and becoming a temporary ‘experts’ for the duration of a search project, we’ve developed knack for digesting large amounts of complex technical jargon, abbreviations and acronyms, and then ‘translating’ into simple English.

Here’s our take on the new COVID vaccines:

We have to start by briefly discussing DNA, you know, double helix-shaped string of A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s we all remember from the cartoon character at the beginning of Jurassic Park.

Mr DNA, seemed to love ‘Dina-sowers’ (Credit: Universal Pictures)

DNA is the blueprint to make parts of a cell. Cells take the DNA and transcribe it into RNA, RNA being the set of instructions that tell the cell what to make. mRNA (literally messenger-RNA) sends the instructions to the cell to make something.

Your immune system attacks anything foreign to your body. If it sees a virus or a bacteria or even a protein that it doesn’t recognise (ask anyone with a peanut allergy about this), it launches an attack.

If it’s fighting off a virus, it takes time to build up to a full attack. It has to figure out the virus’ weak-spot and increase production of what it needs to attack those parts. This can take a few days, which to a virus is plenty of time to replicate and expand.

If (no WHEN, let’s be positive) your body fights off the virus, it remembers it. You’ve got ‘memory cells’ in your immune system and if you run into that virus again, your memory cells say “Hey! I’ve seen this **** before!”, and uses it’s past experience to target the weakness it already knows about and can kill the virus before it can make you sick.

Scientists looked at the COVID virus and found a protein ‘on the outside’ that it uses to get into your cells. Without this protein, the virus is much less infectious.

They analysed the entire DNA sequence of virus and found the specific part of the sequence of DNA that is the blueprints for that protein, then they made an mRNA version of it - literally just the instructions on how to make that protein.

These instructions ’are’ the vaccine…

The vaccine contains no actual part of the virus, it’s just the instructions for making this protein. (So just to clarify, you can’t get infected with COVID from the vaccine — you just get instructions for building the protein.)

Your cells see these instructions and say “OK, I’ll make this”, and make a load of this protein.

You immune system then sees this new protein you’re cells are producing and immediately says: “what the bloody hell is this?” And it starts attacking it.

Remember, it’s never seen this protein before and it takes awhile to work out and then ramp up production of whatever it needs to fight it. The fevers, chills, muscle soreness, etc you might get as vaccine side effects is your body waging war against this protein.

So eventually, your immune system destroys the invader protein, and importantly… also remembers it, and exactly how to kill it.

Side note: your body destroys the mRNA instructions that you got with the vaccine pretty quickly too; you don’t need a instructions for building a ‘useless protein’ hanging around forever so your body gets rid of them.

So a few days after receiving the vaccine, all remnants are gone — you’ve destroyed all traces of the protein and the mRNA instructions. Everything from the vaccine is gone, except the memory and the instructions your own body developed for destroying the protein.

Fast forward a little and when the COVID virus enters your body, even though it has never seen the virus before it HAS seen that protein that’s on the outside of the virus. Your body says “You again? Sling your ‘ook!”.

Your immune system then quickly and efficiently initiates Armageddon, using the template it has from when it destroyed the protein last time, eliminating the virus before it can take hold, replicate, and make you sick.

Congratulations! Now, you’re immune to COVID!

I know a few of you will still have a couple of questions…

“But, my immune system only knows how to kill the protein, not the COVID virus itself, what if it mutates so it doesn’t produce the protein any more?”

Well, since it uses the protein to get into your cells, if it mutates away from producing it, the virus will probably be less infectious anyway — that’s what makes the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) brilliant!

“Has testing been rushed? Surely a vaccine developed this quickly can’t be safe?”

Fear not, Pfizer have been working on this vaccine for nearly two decades; they filed a patent application back in May 2004.

Fig 1 from WO2005113850, not much to look at but the letters are an anagram of ‘Zoo harmony’ (with a few left over)

WO 2005/113580 A1 — “Anticoronviral compounds and compositions, their pharmaceutical uses and materials for their synthesis”

‘580 describes the same process detailed above, specifically outlining the idea of targeting the protein part of the coronavirus.

Page 10 states: …“The term “interfering with or preventing” SARS-related coronavirus (“SARS”) viral replication in a cell means to reduce SARS replication or production of SARS components necessary for progeny virus in a cell as compared to a cell not being transiently or stably transduced with the ribozyme or a vector encoding the ribozyme”…

Then on page 16: …“Protein functions required for coronavirus replication and transcription are encoded by the so-called “replicase” gene. Two overlapping polyproteins are translated from this gene and extensively processed by viral proteases”

So, despite what some ‘Facebook scientists’ would have you believe, the vaccine has not been rushed, it has been 17 years in the making. In fact assuming the idea wasn’t conceived and patented in under 3 months (extremely unlikely in our experience), it has been in development since before Facebook existed! I think Alanis has something to say about that

Prepare for an ear-worm… “It’s like ra-ee-aane…” (Credit: Ari Michelson)

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