Alumni in Action: Chris Adamik ’20 helps develop Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

Adamik is part of Moderna's DNA manufacturing department, which develops DNA used in the biotechnology company's mRNA vaccines. That DNA helped speed the breakthrough mRNA-1273 COVID vaccine now in wide distribution across America.

The FDA clearance of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in December — with trials showing more than 94 percent efficacy against the disease — brought with it a collective wave of relief.

Chris Adamik '20
Chris Adamik ’20

That announcement meant that help and hope were just around the corner, with the vaccine now being widely administered to millions of Americans in a historic effort to end the pandemic.

As an associate in Moderna’s DNA manufacturing department, Elon alumnus Chris Adamik ’20 was part of a team that manufactured the DNA to develop the mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. Adamik began his position with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company in June, just after graduating from Elon with a B.S. in biochemistry.

What’s your role at Moderna?

I am responsible for growing and purifying the DNA for future manufacturing departments. I was also present on the team when we were manufacturing the DNA for our mRNA-1273 vaccine (SARS-CoV-2 vaccine). The DNA we manufacture is used for our trials and vaccines.

What has it been like working at Moderna during the pandemic and the development of this life-saving vaccine?

The work atmosphere is one filled with scientific rigor and as a recent graduate, I’m excited to be surrounded by fellow scientific minds. Naturally, work environments during a pandemic are different, but I’ve been amazed at how wonderfully Moderna has responded and implemented strategies to maintain a safe work environment: We are tested daily for COVID, public spaces have maximum capacities, and there’s never an alcove without a box packed with fresh masks. While the mRNA-1273 vaccine (SARS-CoV-2 vaccine) is our major focus, we haven’t stopped working on our other pipelines. Our urgency while manufacturing the vaccine is equally matched by our quality. It’s great to be surrounded by type-A personalities.

How did studying biochemistry at Elon prepare you for this work?

My biochemistry major prepared me so much for post-grad. Elon’s biochemistry labs are the most applicable to my current work experience. In the lab, we start with a cell. We grow that cell, break open the cell to reach its genetic information, and purify the cell goo to achieve the genetic information we are interested in. I was amazed at how much of the process I knew prior to walking into Moderna on my first day. So, thank you, biochemistry lab!

The biochemistry senior seminar was also instructive. The focus for our capstone course analyzed novel biochemical techniques. As my professors and classmates know, I have a weird obsession with the kidney. I decided to do my research on novel microscopy. In that moment, I was truly the happiest I’ve ever been while learning science. I implemented prior knowledge from every class and applied it to a field of science I was obsessed with. On top of that, learning about a novel technique made me feel like a genuine scientist — and that’s what brought me closer to Moderna.

When you learn about vaccines (e.g., MMR, flu, HPV, tetanus), they all incorporate a part of the virus that will cause an immune response. Vaccines have been theorized and postulated by immunologists, epidemiologists, and scientists alike since the 1790s. The vaccine we are working on at Moderna incorporates a new aspect of the virus: genetic information. This is a novel modality and a truly full-circle event for me.

How did Elon science faculty put you on the path to becoming a biochemist?

I’ve had a couple of months to reminisce about my time at Elon. Yes, I was a biochemistry major, but at the end of the day, I was and am so grateful to have meandered through my science degree. I need to give credit to my professors.

I am able to talk about science, work with science, and basically eat/breathe/sleep science — and it’s all thanks to my professors. Sure, you have to intrinsically love science to want to be surrounded by it but having those professors there to help you appreciate and comprehend the natural phenomena galvanizes a wannabe science major into a science fanatic.

Science is a subject that is both admired and feared. We need more science professors who are not only passionately curious about science, but also able to translate science. I had my share of Elon faculty who were able to translate this auspicious realm we call science. I can’t say “thank you” enough to my science professors, and I hope they all know how much I appreciate them for being a part of my life.