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

Two pioneers of mRNA vaccine research receive 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 likelihood 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 as a result of researchers' “discoveries in the field of nucleoside base modifications, which enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.”

“During the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes, vaccine developers relied on the discoveries of Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, which saved countless lives and paved a path out of the pandemic,” J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive director, University of Pennsylvania vp for the health system and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine said 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 made a lasting mark 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 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, in accordance with 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 treat patients at Penn and is conducting research on 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 an associate professor of neurosurgery at Penn.

Karikó and Weissman share the estimated prize of a million dollars equally. The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to Swedish paleogeneticist Dr. Svante Pääbo, who decoded the Neanderthal genome.