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The Medical Revolution of Messenger RNA

Subject Area(s):  General Interest TitlesViruses

By Fabrice Delaye

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© 2023 • 136 pages, illustrated (16 B&W), index + 8-page insert
Hardcover •
ISBN  978-1-621824-94-7

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To the casual observer, it took just 10 months to develop a vaccine against the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. That extraordinary success was made possible by the use of messenger RNA (mRNA), the molecule that instructs cells to make a virus surface protein that stimulates the production of antiviral antibodies.

What most people don’t know is that this apparently breakthrough technology had been in development for three frustrating decades. And that it was preceded by 30 earlier years of fundamental research.

This book tells the story of how mRNA’s medical potential was finally realized, setting the stage for a coming revolution in which our own bodies will generate therapeutic molecules we need. mRNA was long overlooked by mainstream molecular biologists. The pathway to recognition of its therapeutic possibilities was littered with broken careers, lawsuits, and opportunities missed by pharmaceutical companies. For the scientists who persisted through years of academic and commercial disappointment, the COVID-19 vaccine was an enormous vindication and an important step toward a new generation of therapies.

Fabrice Delaye, a science and technology reporter for in Switzerland, interviewed more than 40 scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide to create this definitive account of the rise of a technology that promises to revolutionize medicine.

FABRICE DELAYE, 58, is a science and technology journalist based in Switzerland. He was U.S. correspondent at the daily Swiss newspaper L’Agefi, science and technology editor at magazine Bilan, and is now a reporter-at-large for in Geneva. He is a graduate of the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris and has a master's degree from the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, EPFL.

When COVID-19 imposed its relentless grip on the global population and messenger RNA–based vaccines came to the rescue in seemingly record time, Delaye realized that their development could not have been as simple and quick as people wanted to believe. But it was not until he went in pursuit of the origins of mRNA technologies that he uncovered a dramatic story that had never been told.

Maximizing his decades of contacts and his unique grasp of the science and the stakes involved, Delaye set out to document the long, harrowing, unlikely but ultimately triumphant road to discovery of RNA-based technology with the potential to transform the world far beyond the pandemic.


Foreword, by Thomas R. Cech
Introduction: What Happens When the Jab Goes into Your Arm?
Prologue: 1960–1990: The Beatles Years of mRNA
1 From Science to Technology at the Salk Institute
2 RNA or DNA? How Merck Missed the Jackpot
3 How French RNA Pioneers Killed the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs
4 How Karikó and Weissman Wove an Invisibility Cloak
5 CureVac: How the German Hare Became a Tortoise
6 Moderna's Moonshot
7 The Race for mRNA Vaccines Told by Its Referee
8 BioNTech: What’s Next?
9 Lipids: The Key to the Third Medical Revolution
Selected Bibliography
Photo Section


review:  “This is a timely account of what many may have thought of as a breakthrough discovery—the development of the COVID-19 vaccines—when in reality it had been in development for 30 years prior, predated by 30 more years of fundamental research. ...Delaye, a science and technology journalist, interviewed more than 40 scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide to bring forth this account of an important technology that promises to revolutionize the field of medicine. Recommended. All readers.”

review:  “The fascinating story of mRNA vaccine development reads like a thriller. It highlights the human dimension of an extraordinary achievement.”
President Emeritus of the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)

review:  “The 327 days it took to make the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines changed the world of science; Fabrice Delaye’s book tells the fascinating inside story of the many years of scientific endeavor it took to make it happen.”
CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Co-founder of COVAX