Two scientists whose pioneering work helped create mRNA Covid vaccines were today awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were credited with helping to change the course of the pandemic.
Before mRNA jabs were rolled out to millions of people worldwide to protect them against Covid, such technology was considered experimental. Researchers are now exploring if it could help beat cancer and other diseases.
Karikó, 68, and Weissman, 64, first met in the 1990s while working at the University of Pennsylvania after a chance meeting while photocopying research papers.
They realised their shared interest before embarking on their decades-long mission to help make better jabs.
Their work saw them develop so-called nucleoside base modifications, which stop the immune system from launching an inflammatory attack against laboratory-made mRNA — once seen as a major hurdle against any therapeutic use of the tech.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman shared the coveted award for their discoveries concerning ‘nucleoside base modifications’ that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against Covid. The duo were credited with helping to change the course of the Covid pandemic
Katalin Karikó is a professor at Szeged University in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania . Drew Weissman performed his prizewinning research together with Professor Karikó at the University of Pennsylvania. Pictured, the two laureates today during the announcement of the winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm
The duos ‘groundbreaking findings’ have ‘fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system’, the Nobel Assembly said.
They contributed to the ‘unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times’, they added.
While the prize-winning science dates back to 2005, the first vaccines to use the mRNA technology were those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna against Covid.
Messenger RNA, or mRNA, is a genetic blueprint that can instructs cells to make proteins in the body.
Vaccines train the immune system to recognise and fight threats such as viruses or bacteria.
But unlike other traditional vaccines, a live or attenuated virus is not injected or required at any point.
For Covid, the mRNA vaccine instructed cells to make the spike protein found on the surface of the virus itself.
After vaccination, cells begin making the protein, ‘training’ the immune system to recognise it and then to make cells that fight it if someone later gets infected with the virus.
Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced this year’s winner at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
He told the ceremony both scientists were ‘overwhelmed’ by news of the prize when he contacted them shortly before the announcement.
‘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,’ Rickard Sandberg, member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute, also said.
‘The impressive flexibility and speed with which mRNA vaccines can be developed pave the way for using the new platform also for vaccines against other infectious diseases,’ the committee added.
They told the conference the technology ‘may also be used to deliver therapeutic proteins and treat some cancer types’.
The two longstanding colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have won a slew of awards for their research, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021, which is often seen as a precursor to the Nobel.
In honouring the duo this year, the Nobel committee in Stockholm also broke its usual practice of honouring decades-old research to ensure it stands the test of time.
mRNA contains four different bases. The Nobel Laureates discovered that base-modified mRNA can be used to block activation of inflammatory reactions (secretion of signaling molecules) and increase protein production when mRNA is delivered to cells
Karikó and Weissman together began investigating mRNA as a potential therapeutic in the 1990s. In 2005, they published their results in a paper which revealed mRNA could be altered and delivered effectively into the body to activate the body’s protective immune system. Unlike other vaccines, a live or attenuated virus is not injected or required at any point. Pictured, methods for vaccine production before the COVID-19 pandemic
Speaking to Swedish Radio this morning, Professor Karikó said her late mother used to listen to the Nobel prize announcements in the hopes of hearing her daughter’s name.
‘She listened year after year. Unfortunately five years ago she passed at the age of 89. She might be listening from above.’
Professor Karikó said her husband was the first to pick up the early morning call, then handed it to her to hear the news. ‘I couldn’t believe it,’ she said. ‘I was very much surprised. But I am very happy.’
Past winners in the field include a string of famous researchers, notably Alexander Fleming, who shared the 1945 prize for the discovery of penicillin.
The prizes carry a cash award of 11million Swedish kronor ($1million).
The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.
The pair will receive their Nobel prize, consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and a $1 million cheque, from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.
Neither have worked for Covid vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca.
Professor Karikó was, however, senior vice president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022 and has since acted as an adviser to the company. BioNTech worked with Pfizer to create its Covid jab.
Professor Karikó, who also works at the University of Szeged, is the 13th woman to win the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Professor Weissman has remained at the University of Pennsylvania where he is the Roberts Family Professor in vaccine research and director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.
Prospective future uses of mRNA include drugs against cancer and vaccines against malaria, influenza and rabies.
Last year, the Medicine Prize went to Professor Svante Pääbo who discovered that Neanderthals are still alive after proving interbreeding occurred between Homo Sapiens and our closest ancient relatives.
Neanderthal DNA provided key insights into our immune system, including our vulnerability to severe Covid.
The award was the second in the family. Paabo’s father, Sune Bergstrom, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982.
The Nobel season continues this week with the announcement of the winners of the Physics Prize tomorrow and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday.
They will be followed by the much-anticipated prizes for Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday.
The Economics Prize winds things up on Monday, October 9.
How do mRNA Covid jabs work?
Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines contain genetic material called RNA from the coronavirus.
This instructs the body to make the ‘spike’ proteins that coat the surface of the virus and latch onto cells inside the body.
These cells then look like the real virus to the immune system, so it attacks them with antibodies and T cells — which help the body fight-off illness — as it would if someone was infected with Covid.
In the process it also creates its own memory of exactly how to destroy anything with the spikes on — i.e. the real coronavirus — in case it encounters them in the future.
If a person is later exposed to the virus, antibodies and T cells can recognise and attack the virus before it can infect healthy cells or cause illness.
mRNA vaccines have been shown in trials and real-world data to be safe and slash the risk of becoming severely unwell, hospitalised or dying due to Covid.
The jabs cannot alter DNA or cause a coronavirus infection.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-12583815/And-winner-Covid-vaccines-Nobel-Prize-Medicine-goes-born-scientist-Hungarian-peer-helped-create-game-changing-mRNA-jabs.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 And the winner is… Covid vaccines! Nobel Prize for Medicine goes to US scientist and Hungarian peer who helped create game-changing mRNA jabs