"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 award winners are Katalin Karikó, PhD, a 68-year-old biochemist of Hungarian origin, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a 64-year-old American immunologist. They worked together on the University of Pennsylvania, where they met by probability on the copier in 1998, and in 2005 discovered a brand new method for chemically modifying RNA that eliminated a previously problematic inflammatory response. to Penn Medicine.

In his NoticeThe Nobel organization said the award was on account of researchers' “discoveries regarding 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 the discoveries of Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, which saved countless lives and paved 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 mark on medicine.”

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

Weissman previously worked as a fellow on the National Institutes of Health in Anthony Fauci's laboratory studying HIV. Fauci is the previous director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Both Karikó and Weissman still work for the University of Pennsylvania, based on their website.

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

Weissman continues to be seeing patients at Penn and researching a vaccine to forestall the following coronavirus epidemic, a universal flu vaccine, a vaccine to forestall 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 split the estimated $1 million prize equally. The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to the Swedish paleogeneticist Dr. Svante Pääbo, who decoded the Neanderthal genome.