In the recent article “Without These Lipid Shells, There Would Be No mRNA Vaccines for COVID-19,” Giuseppe Ciaramella, head of infectious diseases at Moderna from 2014 to 2018, refers to lipid nanoparticles as the “unsung hero of the whole thing” (C&EN, March 8, 2021, page 16). Readers may wish to be reminded of earlier heroes concerned with the seminal discovery of liposomes by Alec Bangham in the 1960s at the Babraham Institute and their immediate use as a model for the study of cell membrane biophysics. It was followed in the early ’70s by initial work in animals and humans by one of us with the demonstration that liposomes (originally called Banghasomes) could serve as a carrier system for the delivery of drugs and vaccines in therapeutic and preventive medicine. This led to the general adoption of liposomes in applications that included the treatment of lysosomal storage diseases, cancer and antimicrobial chemotherapy, the treatment of diabetes, conventional and genetic vaccines, and small interfering RNA therapies. Without the discovery of the liposome itself by Bangham, there would not be lipid nanoparticles, nor would there be millions of lives saved, as your magazine article reminds us.
Sir Brian Heap (Cambridge, England) and Gregory Gregoriadis (London)
Kudos to staff writer Ryan Cross for writing an excellent, educational article, titled “Powerful Packaging: Without These Lipid Shells, There Would Be No mRNA Vaccines for COVID-19.” Many contemporary chemists who have reached retirement age (like me) probably did not study molecular biology, beyond perhaps an introductory biochemistry course. The accompanying artwork found in this article was educationally superb!
I commend Editor in Chief Bibiana Campos Seijo and other C&EN staff for continuing to publish timely articles over the past year related to the science that underlies our understanding of the root cause and potential remedies of this virus. These articles enable American Chemical Society members to more effectively articulate to the nonscientific community why the COVID-19 vaccine is important. This is certainly important in light of this anti-intellectual social-political climate that we find ourselves in.
Paul R. Loconto