Illustration: Kim Ryu for Endpoints News

Decades af­ter break­through, sci­en­tists still puz­zling over mR­NA de­liv­ery

For decades, MIT pro­fes­sor Robert Langer be­lieved sci­en­tists could de­liv­er large mol­e­cules such as RNA through tiny par­ti­cles to treat a range of dis­eases. When he told a group of se­nior sci­en­tists about his ideas for drug de­liv­ery at a Chi­nese restau­rant in 1979, one of them blew cig­ar smoke in his face.

“You bet­ter start look­ing for an­oth­er job,” the sci­en­tist said.

Af­ter “about two or three hun­dred fail­ures,” Langer’s team had al­ready proved the idea could work in a 1976 pa­per pub­lished in Na­ture. Still, he faced a string of re­ject­ed grants and skep­ti­cism. His re­search on drug de­liv­ery, which led him to co-found Mod­er­na in 2010, went on to prove crit­i­cal in de­vel­op­ing the com­pa­ny’s Covid-19 vac­cine. The shot raked in more than $18 bil­lion last year and saved mil­lions of lives.

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