Scientific investigations conducted to expand knowledge and understanding of fundamental concepts in a given field of study are the core of basic research, being essential for the advancement of scientific knowledge. Next comes, inevitably, the application of this new knowledge to generate economic goods.

However, while persisting in the search for greater knowledge of natural phenomena, it is also necessary to be attentive to the protection of intellectual production. Thus, it is possible to provide wide dissemination of knowledge and innovation produced in a given area, as well as the use of this knowledge for social benefit, without, however, neglecting the right to economic exploitation and recognition of authorship of intellectual production, often the result of years research with human and financial investment.

Take the example of the 2023 Nobel Prize winners for Medicine, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, who after decades of studying messenger RNA (mRNA) and published scientific articles, saw their research efforts being applied in the development of vaccines to combat the disease new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which even in a context of technological, medical and communication advances, in less than three months, swept countries around the world becoming a pandemic disease.

Many years ago, scientists discovered that mRNA could be used for vaccines, however, the unstable nature of mRNA, problems related to the protection of these molecules for delivery into animal cells, inability to overcome the cell membrane, among other issues, posed challenges to their use as an immunizer and in new medicines.

Karikó and Weissman discovered that a modification of nucleotide bases in the RNA molecule (replacement of uridine with its analogues, such as pseudouridine), in addition to a delivery structure that uses lipid nanoparticles, could reduce its immunogenicity and aggressive inflammatory response, making it more suitable for use in medicines or vaccines, in addition to being more stable and with better performance.

In this way, by combining their findings with previous scientific studies, Karikó and Weissman were able to modify the mRNA in a way that could enter cells, avoiding the inflammatory response and toxicity, without interfering with the desired immune responses. Thus, the injected mRNA originates the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, triggering the production of specific antibodies that will be recruited if the vaccinated person comes into contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with consequent neutralization of the virus.

Throughout this trajectory, Karikó, Weissman and the institutions where they carried out research did not neglect the protection of intellectual property. Since 2006, Karikó and Weissman have been listed as inventors in patents held by the University of Pennsylvania and the biotechnology company BioNTech, US8278036, US8691966, US8748089, US8835108, US9371511 and US9750824, whose scopes of protection reveal RNA containing modified nucleosides and methods of using the same, as well as methods for reducing the immunogenicity of RNA molecules.

As mentioned above, this innovation led to the rapid development of vaccines for COVID-19 using mRNA technology, being essential to face the Public Health Emergency, in addition to being able to be applied in the treatment of other diseases, such as cancer.

During the careers of both scientists, research collaboration partnerships were also established with companies in the field, patent licensing was also established, in addition to the migration of researchers from academia to business, with Karikó becoming senior vice-president of BioNTech in 2013.

Therefore, the key to a fruitful environment for innovation and progress in science, with increased competitiveness and economic development, lies in the partnership and collaboration between universities and industry, academia and the productive sector in a cohesive ecosystem of relationships between innovation agents, without renouncing protection. This negotiation is heavily based on industrial property rights, especially through the alienation of patents.

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