The 2023 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has been awarded to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their work on mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet announced on Monday.
“The discoveries by the two Nobel Laureates were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020,” the Nobel Prize committee said in a statement.
BREAKING NEWS— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 2, 2023
The 2023 #NobelPrize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/Y62uJDlNMj
“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.”
Kariko and Weissman published their work on mRNA vaccines in a 2005 paper but received little attention at the time, the Nobel Prize committee said, but their findings later laid the foundation for critically important developments.
Kariko, an Hungarian-American biochemist, and Weissman, an American Physicist, are both professors at the University of Pennsylvania. Their work became the foundation for the development of COVID-19 vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna.
The messenger RNA is a singular strand of genetic code that cells can read and use to make a protein. In the case of this vaccine the mRNA instructs cells in the body to induce a spike in a particular piece of the virus, causing the immune system to detect it as foreign and prepare to attack when an actual infection occurs.
Kariko and Weiss’ design was selected to for developing the covid vaccine because of its quick turnaround – it only requires the genetic sequence of the virus causing the pandemic and not the virus itself.
Kariko began her research on mRNA during the early 1990s when she was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She was later joined by Weissman who had newly joined the institution at the time.
Spurred by new ideas, the two began a “fruitful collaboration” focussing on how different RNA types interact with the immune system, the committee said.
“The impressive flexibility and speed with which mRNA vaccines can be developed to pave the way for using new platform also for vaccines against other infectious diseases,” the committee said adding that the technology may also be used “to deliver therapeutic proteins and treat some cancer types.”