Local Scientist Recognized with $3 Million Prize for Pivotal Research That Led to Development of COVID-19 Vaccine

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man and woman who won prize
Images via David Maialetti and Tom Gralish, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman are sharing a $3 million Breakthrough Prize for their mRNA research.

Abington scientist Katalin Karikó and her colleague Drew Weissman have been honored with a $3 million Breakthrough Prize for their mRNA research that proved pivotal in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, writes Tom Avril for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The pair, who conducted their research at the University of Pennsylvania 16 years ago, were recognized for their success in modifying the genetic molecule called messenger RNA to instruct human cells to create customized proteins.

This concept also has many potential future uses, including the treatment of numerous diseases. Karikó herself explored it as a heart disease therapy years ago.

However, its first widespread success was teaching the immune system how to fight off the coronavirus.

The first two vaccines that were developed for COVID-19 (the Moderna vaccine and a joint effort from Pfizer and BioNTech, where Karikó currently works) rely on mRNA.

Since these vaccines were authorized for use nine months ago, Karikó has received numerous awards, but the latest one is by far the biggest payoff.

“It’s been very wonderful,” said Weissman, 62, a professor at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “I never thought it was possible.”

“I never sought any of this,” said Karikó. “I went 40 years without any prize.”

Read more about Katalin Karikó in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Katalin Karikó and her colleague Drew Weissman discuss the vaccine and mRNA research in this NBC video.

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