The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on October 2, 2023 that Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their “discoveries concerning nucleoside base modification that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.”
The laureates, according to the press release, “contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times” through their ground-breaking findings that have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system.
Biochemist Katalin Karikó recognised the potential of mRNA as a treatment as early as the 1990s. However, in 2005, she and immunologist colleague Drew Weissman released a paper detailing their investigation into the effects of nucleoside alteration on the immune system.
In 2008 and 2010, researchers released articles that further refined the initial discovery, showing that mRNA may be used to suppress inflammatory reactions and boost protein synthesis in therapeutic settings.
These two, who were considered frontrunners, “contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the verdict concluded, as reported by AFP.
The Stockholm Nobel committee made an exception this year by awarding them both, normally reserved for researchers whose work is decades old.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines against COVID-19 were the first to exploit the mRNA technology, but the prize-winning research was published in 2005.
Longtime University of Pennsylvania collaborators Karikó of Hungary and Weissman of the United States have earned a number of accolades for their work, including the renowned Lasker Award in 2021, which is widely viewed as a predecessor to the Nobel.
Swedish anthropologist Svante Pääbo won the Nobel Prize in Physiology last year “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.” Dr Pääbo has contributed significantly to our understanding of human evolution and migration by laying the groundwork for an altogether new field of study.
A week of Nobel Prize announcements begins with the Prize in Physiology or Medicine. On October 3rd, the winners will be revealed in Physics, and on October 4th, in Chemistry. On October 5th, 6th, and 9th, the winners of the Literature, Peace, and Economic Sciences Prizes will be announced.
On December 10, winners will be presented with a cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor (almost $900,000). The Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who established the award, left a substantial fortune when he passed away in 1895.