Lipid Nanoparticles that Enable COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines

Nominated by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Year: 2022

About the Innovation

The team of Pieter Cullis, Michael Hope and Thomas Madden have worked together for approximately 40 years. They are receiving a Governor General’s Innovation Award for their work in developing lipid nanoparticle (LNP) systems to deliver cancer drugs to tumours and to enable RNA and DNA based drugs to be used therapeutically. Among other achievements their work has resulted in the LNP systems that enable the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

About the Innovators

The team was formed in the early 1980’s in the UBC laboratory of Dr. Cullis and first invented a device to make lipid nanoparticles. This resulted in formation of Lipex Biomembranes to distribute this instrument worldwide. Subsequently they invented methods for loading anticancer drugs into LNP and formed Inex Pharmaceuticals, resulting in three LNP drugs that have received regulatory approval to treat cancer and its complications. In 2009 the team founded Acuitas Therapeutics to develop LNP formulations of nucleic acid therapeutics such as small interfering RNA (siRNA) and messenger RNA (mRNA) for therapeutic and vaccine applications. Acuitas has established partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and academic institutes to advance nucleic acid therapeutics into clinical trials and to the marketplace. Acuitas has agreements with several partners to use its proprietary lipid nanotechnology in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. These include Pfizer/BioNTech for COMIRNATY®, which has received full approval in the U.S. and Canada and is authorized for Emergency Use in Europe, the UK and many other countries.

Dr. Pieter R. Cullis, Dr. Michael J. Hope and Dr. Thomas D. Madden (pictured is Dr. Pieter Cullis)

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