For all the devastation the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, there is finally a bright spot: For the first time ever, drug companies created a vaccine against a novel pathogen within a year of its discovery—about a tenth of the time it usually takes. Regulatory authorities in the US, the UK, the EU, and Canada have all authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, a world-first for a vaccine based on messenger RNA. President-elect Joe Biden received his Pfizer jab on Dec. 21. A few days earlier, on Dec. 18, the US also authorized Moderna’s mRNA vaccine.
These nucleic acid vaccines, which use cells’ existing infrastructure to manufacture their own medicine, appear poised to kickstart new era of rapid-response vaccine development. But their success wouldn’t have been possible without a supportive technology that allows the shots to reach the right destination in the body: tiny bits of fat called lipid nanoparticles.