Nobel in medicine awarded to two who enabled development of mRNA vaccines

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded Monday for discoveries that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.

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Katalin Karikó, a professor at Sagan’s University in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Drew Weissman, who worked with Karikó at the University of Pennsylvania, were announced as the prize winners in Stockholm on Monday.

Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly, made the announcement.

Karikó was senior vice president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022. BioNTech partnered with Pfizer pharmaceuticals to create a COVID-19 vaccine. Karikó now acts as an adviser to BioNTech.

Weissman is a professor of vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

The prize came nearly two decades after the pair published a key discovery about messenger RNA, or mRNA, in 2005. They found that mRNA could be altered and delivered effectively into the body to activate the body’s protective immune system, Penn Today reported.

The mRNA vaccine works by introducing into a cell a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a protein from a virus. The body’s immune system recognizes it as a foreign substance and produces antibodies to fight off the protein, suppressing the virus.

The mRNA vaccine does not require a live or attenuated virus to be used in a vaccine, unlike other vaccines.

“So this year’s Nobel Prize recognizes their basic science discovery that fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with the immune system and had a major impact on society during the recent pandemic,” said Rickard Sandberg, a member of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute.

The prize is the first of six Nobel Prizes that will be awarded this year. The other prizes include an award for groundbreaking contributions in physics, chemistry, economic science, literature and peace work.

The prizes carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor, or about $1 million U.S. dollars.

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