Academy members Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their pioneering work on mRNA vaccines, participated in a wide-ranging and accessible Academy conversation earlier this year.
Karikó and Weissman, elected to the Academy in 2022, spoke about their discoveries and challenges and future applications in March 2023. The virtual event was hosted by the Academy's Philadelphia Program Committee, led by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Nora S. Newcombe. As Karikó and Weissman discussed their work and answered questions from Academy members, they shed light on what they learned from each other, how they worked together, and the future of mRNA therapies.
First published nearly 20 years ago, their discoveries were crucial to the development of mRNA technology and COVID-19 vaccines. Their research “contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” said the Nobel Assembly in a statement.
“Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman’s research is a singular achievement, and they rightly join the ranks of other Nobel Laureates who have changed the course of human history,” said David Oxtoby, President of the American Academy.
In a series of publications in 2005, 2008, and 2010, Karikó and Weissman demonstrated a novel technique to modify and deliver mRNA – or modified RNA – in lipid nanoparticles. Their method enabled the body to trigger a protective immune response, rather than the inflammatory responses seen in previous experiments. The COVID-19 vaccines developed by firms Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both used modified-RNA, becoming the first widely distributed vaccines to do so.
Karikó is Professor at Szeged University in Hungary, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and former senior vice president of at BioNTech. Weissman is Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research at the University of Pennsylvania.