top of page

Nobel Prize of the Century

Two Covid-19 Vaccine Scientists Receive Nobel Prize in Medicine

Photo by Mufid Manjun on Unsplash

One of the most groundbreaking achievements in the field of medicine has received one of the most honorable recognitions. The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their work on mRNA vaccines. The award was given on Oct. 2 in Sweden by the Secretary-General of the Nobel Assembly Thomas Perlmann. The two scientists’ findings received little recognition when they were first published in 2005. However, years later, it became a foundation for modern medicine that saved millions of lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Covid-19 was a big issue, and the help solving the issue deserves a big reward,” junior Landon Fantle said. “Covid-19 was a relatively new disease, and combating it will help us in combating future diseases.”

Karikó, who became the 13th recipient of the Nobel Prize in medicine, began her research in Hungary in the 1970s, when little was known about mRNA. Throughout her career, she faced a series of adversities, such as negative feedback from other researchers, demotion from her position at the University of Pennsylvania and a diagnosis of cancer. Karikó and Weissman met each other by chance in the late 1990s while photocopying papers and then began mRNA research together.

“I definitely think they deserved it [the Nobel Prize],” Science Department Chair Ariel Evans said. “I think it’s really exciting because people don’t really know what’s going on with a lot of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences like what they’re about and the significance of things, so [it is exciting] having a Nobel Prize go to something that we all understand.”

Before their work, mRNA vaccines were seen as impractical for decades because the injection of mRNA into the human body caused an immediate breakdown of mRNA, a natural immune defense reaction. However, Karikó and Weissman’s found that switching an mRNA molecule called uridine with pseudouridine avoids the reaction, opening a gate for a new vaccine strategy. mRNA vaccination is further recognized because, unlike DNA vaccination, it does not require the injection of a real virus. During the pandemic, major biotech companies including Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna used Karikó and Weissman’s technology and produced effective vaccines. 

“During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, vaccine developers relied upon the discoveries by Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, which saved innumerable lives and paved a path out of the pandemic,” executive vice president of UPenn’s School of Medicine J. Larry Jameson said. “More than 15 years after their visionary laboratory partnership, Kati and Drew have made an everlasting imprint on medicine.”

While Karikó is currently a senior vice president at BioNTech and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Weissman still continues researching mRNA vaccines for the next Covid-19 epidemic, global influenza, cancer and more. Both scientists will equally split the estimated one million dollar prize.


Follow us on Instagram

Andy Poll

Get involved with Maclay Andalusian by submitting your work as a guest writer!

bottom of page