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The race to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 is frantically underway, and Elon Musk has entered the fray.
Musk tweeted on Wednesday that Tesla would use its German manufacturing facility, Tesla Grohmann Automation, to assist the German vaccine development company CureVac in the creation of “RNA microfactories.” While current development is taking place in Germany, these mini molecule factories are designed to be mobile and shipped all across the world.
This would allow Covid-19 vaccines to be produced in the millions of doses simultaneously around the world, potentially including the Covid-19 vaccine that CureVac is currently developing.
Unlike vaccines that use live viruses, RNA vaccines (like the one proposed by CureVac) are made of single-strands of non-living genetic material called mRNA.
Scientists are focused on developing mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 because the virus itself is encoded in RNA which begins high-jacking protein production in our DNA once a person becomes infected in order to reproduce the virus. This essentially drives our bodies genetically haywire. The mRNA vaccine being developed by CureVac would work by introducing to the body fatty nanoparticles encoded with Covid-19’s spike protein (those spike balls on the surface of the virus,) which, in theory, would help the immune system learn how to fight it.
As an added bonus, vaccine developers don’t have to worry about keeping anything alive while developing this type of vaccine, which allows them to do so more quickly and easily.
Similar to how an assembly line would help quickly put together a Tesla Model X, these ultrasmall factories will crank out single-strands of mRNA molecules that are used in vaccine development for Covid-19. With Tesla’s help, CureVac plans to develop mobile mRNA printers that can be fed vaccine instructions and generate vaccines all around the world.
CureVac currently has the approved regulatory ability to produce hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine but also plans to build a new stationary site that would enable it to increase its production to billions of doses.
While this Bill & Melinda Gates-backed biotech company is credited for pioneering the RNA-based vaccine approach, it is not alone this time in its pursuit of developing such a vaccine for Covid-19. Companies like BioNTech, Pfizer, and Moderna are also working to develop vaccines in a similar way.
CureVac and Musk didn’t have many more details on the logistics of this partnership just yet, but it wouldn’t be the first time that Musk has (perhaps sloppily) thrown Tesla’s weight into the Covid-19 relief effort. In March he pledged to send ventilators to hospitals in need but many reported actually receiving bilevel non-invasive ventilators (biPAP) or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. The company has also worked to deliver PPE to hospitals.
With any luck, this new partnership will pan out better than Musk’s previous attempts.