In the race for COVID-19 vaccine, Hungarian village firm plays a global role


SZIRAK, Hungary (Reuters) – In an unassuming house in the rolling hills east of the Hungarian capital, a small family firm is helping oil the wheels of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies on their way to the coronovirus vaccine.

Hungarian biologists Alexandra Turok and Noimi Lukacs examine the purity of an antibody, a type of genetic sensor, manufactured by a small family company and sold to the largest pharmaceutical companies in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, Sirajir, Hungary November 13, 2020. REUTERS / Bernadette Szabo

Biologist Noomi Lukacs, 71, retired from his native village of Shirak, is so sensitive to establishing English and scientific consulting (Psychons) and building a sensitive sensor that a few grams can supply the entire global industry for a year Huh.

“We produce monoclonal antibodies,” Lucas told Reuters in the single-storey house where he was born, now partially converted into a world-class laboratory. White powder ships worldwide from here, micrograms at a time.

“These antibodies recognize double-stranded RNA (dsRNA),” she explained. DsRNA is a by-product of the replicating virus, so its presence indicates the presence of a live virus, which has long been useful in virus-related research.

More importantly, dsRNA is also an unproductive process used by American giants Pfizer and BioNTech in Germany to make their experimental COVID-19 vaccine that is more than 90% effective according to preliminary test results last week.

And because dsRNA can be harmful to human cells, it should be filtered from any vaccine used in humans. Several methods of filtering exist, but the most widely used method to perform quality control is to uncover the vaccine of Lucas’ antibodies.

Not only will the antibodies show that if there is any dsRNA in the vaccine, they will also tell the researchers how much it exists. The vaccine can be administered only once completely free of dsRNA.

The result: a line of big pharma representatives outside his door.

The small company is growing rapidly, yet its revenue was only 124 million points (more than $ 400,000) last year, with profits at 52 million signs. It feeds five employees and even leaves some for local charity projects in Shirik.

For Lucas, that’s fine. The success of the long-frozen RNA field is considerable.

DOG in the race

The former university professor closely followed the vaccine race and was particularly vested with competitors who seem ready to come first: who use modified RNA to train human body cells and kill coronaviruses. We do. He was a dog in the RNA race.

Modified RNA, or mRNA, is a new group of functional drugs, with the COVID vaccine being the first product that is likely to receive regulatory approval and go into mass production. But more applications are expected, with Lucas benefitting much more.

“When you get into the RNA field, it’s a very exciting field,” he said, recalling decades of conflict when the rest of the scientific community did not share his enthusiasm.

Or most of the rest, that is. Another Hungarian woman working across the Atlantic, Katalin Kariko, patented a method that enables the use of RNA and promises to free the world from scores of not only coronaviruses but other diseases.

In the process, Carico – now the vice president of Germany’s BioNotech, became an early Cycon customer, with American giant Pfizer breaking through a vaccine earlier this month.

The success of COVID and other RNA uses may require greater use of Lucas’ antibodies, but they do not anticipate much boon.

“We would be happy to sell more of it,” said Johan Simmons, his daughter and chief executive of the small company. “We probably will too. But it is not that we fools will be rich.

Being part of the solution receives its own rewards.

“We have collaborated with most vaccine manufacturers, and certainly almost all are using the mRNA method,” she said with a hint of pride. “We have a small screw in this big machine.”

Reporting by Marten Dunai @mdunai; Editing by Christina Fincher

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