This year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose discoveries paved the way for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
The pair, who had been tipped as favorites, were honored “for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 “, the jury said.
“The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” it added.” The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” it added.
mRNA vaccines differ from traditional vaccines, which use a weakened virus or a vital piece of the virus’ protein by providing the genetic molecules that tell cells what proteins to make. The process simulates an infection, training the immune system for when it encounters the actual virus.
The idea was first demonstrated in 1990. However, it was not until the mid-2000s that Dr. Weissman and Dr. Kariko developed a technique to control a dangerous inflammatory response in animals exposed to these molecules, opening the way to create safe human vaccines.
Dr. Kariko was senior vice president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022 and has since acted as an adviser to the company. She is also a professor at the University of Szeged in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Dr Weissman is a professor of vaccine research at the Perelman School.
Dr. Kariko found a way to prevent the immune system from launching an inflammatory reaction against lab-made mRNA, previously seen as a significant hurdle against any therapeutic use of mRNA
The pair have previously won many awards for their research, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021, often seen as a precursor to the Nobel.