Leftover drops in vials of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine allowed a group of researchers from Stanford University to determine the sequence of the mRNA for SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein that is used in the immunization, Motherboard reported March 29. The sequence has been posted on the open-access website GitHub.
“Sharing of sequence information for broadly used therapeutics has substantial benefit in design of improved clinical tools and precise diagnostics,” the authors write in their post. They explain that knowing the vaccine’s sequence will allow diagnostic labs to more easily differentiate between RNA from the vaccine versus that from an actual viral infection.
“As the vaccine has been rolling out, these sequences have begun to show up in many different investigational and diagnostic studies,” the researchers tell Motherboard by email. “Knowing these sequences and having the ability to differentiate them from other RNAs in analyzing future biomedical data sets is of great utility.”
The mRNA sequence for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was made available to the public in December by the World Health Organization, with the company confirming its accuracy. This gave laboratory scientists the ability to compare what they were seeing in patient samples to the vaccine. Now, researchers will be able to check for markers of the Moderna vaccine as well. The sequences for both vaccines are included in the document posted on GitHub, allowing for side-by-side comparisons of the two.
In order to determine the mRNA transcript’s identity in the Moderna vaccine, the Stanford team collected droplets from the vials after all of the doses were given out. They then obtained permission from the US Food and Drug Administration to perform tests on these tiny leftovers.
According to Motherboard, the team received permission from the FDA to publish the sequence, but couldn’t connect with anyone at Moderna. “We did contact Moderna a couple of weeks ago to indicate that we were hoping to include the sequence in a publication and asking if there was anything that we should reference with respect to this . . . no response or objection from them, so we assume that everyone is busy doing important work.”
Although the mRNA sequence has been made available, it isn’t the full recipe for the vaccine. Moderna’s intellectual property behind the rest of the formulation and complex manufacturing is still protected, Gizmodo reports.