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The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023

Weissman and Kariko Photo Peggy Peterson Courtesy of Penn Medicine

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

The discoveries were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020. Through their findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times, writes the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.

This year’s Nobel laureates critically contributed to this transformative development during one of the biggest health crises of our time.”

“Through their fundamental discoveries of the importance of base modifications in mRNA, this year’s Nobel laureates critically contributed to this transformative development during one of the biggest health crises of our time,” the Nobel Assembly writes.

Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó was born in 1955 in Szolnok, Hungary. She received her PhD from Szeged’s University in 1982 and performed postdoctoral research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Szeged until 1985. She then conducted postdoctoral research at Temple University, Philadelphia, and the University of Health Science, Bethesda. In 1989, she was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she remained until 2013. After that, she became vice president and later senior vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. Since 2021, she has been a Professor at Szeged University and an Adjunct Professor at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2022, the European Patent Office (EPO) honored Katalin Karikó with the European Inventor Award 2022 in the category “Lifetime achievement”, for her seminal work in developing modified messenger RNA (mRNA) for vaccines and medical therapies.

Read more: She is the winner of the European Inventor Award – Lifetime achievement

Drew Weissman

Drew Weissman was born in 1959 in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA. He received his MD, PhD degrees from Boston University in 1987. He did his clinical training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School and postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health. In 1997, Weissman established his research group at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.

The two Laureates was honored with the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award 2021.

Read more: The winners of the Lasker Awards 2021

 

Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach

 

A novel therapeutic technology

Weissman and Karikó discovered how to modify messenger RNA (mRNA) in a way that boosts protein production while minimizing harmful inflammatory responses. In doing so, they launched a novel therapeutic technology – one that has been used to make Covid-19 vaccines in record time and that are 95% effective in preventing illness from the original viral variant. To date, hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have received mRNA vaccines, which have proved to be remarkably safe.

Building on Karikó and Weismann’s breakthrough in RNA therapeutics, researchers are now developing modified mRNA therapies for a plethora of illnesses, including cancers, infectious diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

Read more: Nordic Nobel Laureates

Read more: The Nobel Prize – Editor’s Pick

Photo of Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó. Photographer: Peggy Peterson, Courtesy of Penn Medicine

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