Funding Woes to Nobel Heroes: Congratulations to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman

October 3, 2023
Science Magazine

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman! This dynamic duo has been collaborating on mRNA vaccine research since the early 2000s. They first met over a photocopier at the University of Pennsylvania, where they bonded over their shared funding troubles. Over 20 years of collaboration, the pair developed synthetic mRNA nucleotides that could be taken up by cells, laying the groundwork for mRNA vaccine technology. Their two decades of work came to fruition during the COVID pandemic when biotechnology companies Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech (where Karikó served as senior vice-president) developed the first wide-use mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

Above: Drs. Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó, longtime collaborators who won the Nobel Prize for their contributions to the development of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Image courtesy of Penn Medicine.

Currently, pharmaceutical companies are developing mRNA vaccines against diseases from influenza to herpes, Zika, and HIV. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are taking inspiration from Karikó and Weissman to develop a broad-spectrum coronavirus vaccine, which would provide immunity to all coronavirus infections, including SARS and MERS. Karikó and Weissman’s success seems to have ushered in a golden age of mRNA therapeutic technology with incredible potential. 

To learn more about Nobel Prize winner Katalin Karikó, check out Vertices writer Katherine Long’s 2022 article on Karikó’s intercontinental journey to developing the mRNA vaccine. Just saying, we totally called it.

Katherine Long

Katherine (Trinity ’24) is majoring in biology and chemistry with a concentration in cell and molecular biology. She is passionate about scientific communication and research and is excited to contribute to Vertices as a staff writer and peer reviewer. When she’s not in the lab or doing homework, she loves to paint, hike, and hang out with the Duke cat.

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