Nobel Prize Awarded to COVID-19 Vaccine Research Scientists

Amanda Casanova | Contributor | Updated: Oct 03, 2023
Nobel Prize Awarded to COVID-19 Vaccine Research Scientists

Nobel Prize Awarded to COVID-19 Vaccine Research Scientists

The two scientists who were instrumental in the eventual development of the COVID-19 vaccine have been awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology/medicine.

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Katalin Karikó, a professor in Hungary, and Drew Weissman, an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, were named the winners this week. 

“Through their groundbreaking 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,” the panel that awarded the prize said.

According to The Guardian, the scientists remedied a specific problem in the COVID-19 vaccine development process, where prototypes of synthetic mRNAs provoked inflammatory reactions and could not be used for medical purposes.

Unlike traditional vaccines, which use a weakened virus or a piece of the virus’ protein, mRNA differs in that it provides genetic molecules that tell cells what proteins to make to stimulate infection and then trains the immune system to defend against that same infection.

The two scientists could make chemical changes to the mRNA molecules, stop the inflammatory reactions, and produce proteins that would become the basis for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“This was a vital building block of the success of the RNA vaccines in reducing disease and death during the pandemic,” John Tregoning, a vaccine immunologist at Imperial College London, said.

Weissman is from Massachusetts and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Brandesi University. He also has an M.D. and Ph.D. from Boston University. Previously, he completed a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health under Anthony Fauci, then the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Karikó was born in Hungary and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Szeged before working in research and then immigrating to the U.S. in 1985. Reuter’s reports, “Having grown up in a village in a house without running water or a refrigerator, Kariko got a biochemistry doctorate in Szeged before she and her husband sold their Soviet-made Lada car, sewed some cash into their daughter's teddy bear and went to the U.S. on a one-way ticket.” She has worked in medicine and research in Philadelphia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. She then became a vice president and later a senior VP at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. According to BioNtech, she is now an external consultant for the company.

Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/ Thanasis

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

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Nobel Prize Awarded to COVID-19 Vaccine Research Scientists