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Pioneers Of COVID Vaccine, Kariko And Weissman Receives Nobel Prize For Medicine

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The 2023 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded on Monday to Hungarian researcher Katalin Kariko and American coworker Drew Weissman, who first met while waiting in line for a photocopier and later made discoveries on mRNA molecules that led to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the Swedish award-giving body said in the latest accolade for the pair.

The Karolinska Institute medical university in Sweden’s Nobel Assembly selected the award, which is among the most renowned in the scientific community. It carries a cash prize of 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million) that will be split among the winners.

Kariko is a professor at the University of Szeged in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). She was formerly the senior vice president and director of RNA protein replacement at the German biotech company BioNTech.

“We are not working for any kind of reward,” Kariko, who struggled for years to find grants for her research, said in remarks alongside Weissman at UPenn’s Philadelphia campus, a few hours after she was awoken by the call from Stockholm. “The importance was to have a product which is helpful.”

Weissman, a co-winner and professor of vaccine research at UPenn, remarked that winning was a “lifetime dream” and recalled their close collaboration for more than 20 years, which included emails sent in the middle of the night as they both had trouble sleeping.

Previously viewed as a significant barrier to any therapeutic use of the technology, Kariko and Weissman created so-called nucleoside base alterations in 2005 that prevent the immune system from mounting an inflammatory attack against lab-made mRNA.

“We couldn’t get people to notice RNA as something interesting,” Weissman said on Monday. “Pretty much everybody gave up on it.”

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