"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Two pioneers of mRNA vaccine science win Nobel Prize

October 2, 2023 – Two scientists who pioneered a technology for harnessing fragile genetic material that ultimately led to the mRNA vaccines getting used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic were named winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday.

The honorees are Katalin Karikó, PhD, a 68-year-old Hungarian-born biochemist, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a 64-year-old American immunologist. They worked together on the University of Pennsylvania, met by likelihood on the photocopier in 1998, and in 2005 discovered a latest strategy to chemically modify RNA that eliminated a previously problematic inflammatory response. according to Penn Medicine.

In his NoticeThe Nobel organization said the award was based on the researchers' “discoveries in the field of nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.”

“During the greatest health crisis of our time, vaccine developers relied on Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, who saved countless lives and provided a path out of the pandemic,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vp for the University of Pennsylvania Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, in an announcement. “Now the same approach is being tested for other diseases and conditions. More than 15 years after their visionary laboratory partnership, Kati and Drew have left a lasting impact on medicine.”

Karikó struggled for years to get support, interest or funding for her research. About a decade ago, she began working for a startup in Germany called BioNTech, which eventually partnered with Pfizer to provide an mRNA COVID vaccine.

Weissman previously worked as a fellow on the National Institutes of Health in Anthony Fauci's lab, researching HIV. Fauci is a former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Both Karikó and Weissman still work for the University of Pennsylvania, in keeping with the web site.

“More than 15 years ago at Penn Medicine, Weissman and Karikó found a way to modify mRNA and later developed a delivery technique to package the mRNA into fatty droplets called lipid nanoparticles,” Penn Medicine said. “This ensured it could reach the right part of the body and stimulate the immune system to fight disease.”

Weissman remains to be seeing patients at Penn and researching a vaccine to stop the following coronavirus epidemic, a universal flu vaccine, a vaccine to stop herpes and cancer treatments using mRNA technology. Karikó is currently senior vp of BioNTech and associate professor of neurosurgery at Penn.

Karikó and Weissman will share the estimated $1 million prize equally. The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo, PhD, who sequenced the Neanderthal genome.