Penn has created its own NFT — non-fungible token — honoring Penn Medicine’s mRNA research, which helped create the COVID-19 vaccines.
The NFT, officially called The University of Pennsylvania mRNA NFT: Vaccines for a New Era, is the first NFT created by Penn. NFTs are digital assets in the form of an image, video, audio, or text that use blockchain technology to ensure that the asset can not be duplicated.
Penn’s NFT is a one-minute long 3D animation of the modified mRNA technology that protects someone’s immune system from COVID-19. Images of Penn’s mRNA patent documents and a letter detailing new uses of the mRNA technology are also contained in the NFT.
The digital artifact will be auctioned by the British auction house Christie’s from July 15 to July 25. Proceeds will support ongoing research across the University, according to a Penn Med press release.
The digital artifact showcases Penn Med researchers Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó's work on increasing the therapeutic potential of mRNA by enabling modified mRNA to enter target cells efficiently and instructing them to produce antigens or other proteins that fight diseases, Penn Med reported.
Senior Executive Vice President of Penn Craig Carnaroli explained the significance of the mRNA research found in the NFT.
“[The research is] a type of modified mRNA that was pioneered here at Penn that really helped pave the way for this certain mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, and increasingly it's viewed as one of the world's greatest scientific achievements,” Carnaroli told Reuters.
Christie’s New York Vice President Peter Klarnet believes the NFT is an asset that merits a high price tag.
"[Christie's] strongly believe that [the auction] will bring from low to mid six figures, and possibly into the seven figures considering that the funds will be going to support the mission of Penn Medicine and the work of Drew Weissman [and Katalin Karikó],” Klarnet told Reuters.
Weissman and Karikó have been praised for their contributions to the COVID-19 vaccine, including covering Time’s 2021 Heroes of the Year edition, and Weissman still hopes that their research will become a resource to stop the spread of other infectious diseases.
“Although the investigations that we began over two decades ago have culminated in significant discoveries and a vaccine against a pandemic-causing virus, the work continues,” Weissman said to the Lasker Foundation. "I’m thrilled to say that my lab is pursuing new mRNA vaccines to guard against a host of infectious diseases, like influenza and HIV.”