NEW YORK (VINnews) — The Nobel prize for medicine for 2023 has been awarded to Professors Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, for their discoveries enabling the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. The prize, among the most prestigious in the scientific world, is selected by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute Medical University.
Kariko was senior vice president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022 and has since acted as an adviser to the company. She is also a professor at the University of Szeged in Hungary and adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Weissman, a Jewish American, is a professor in vaccine research at the Perelman School.
Kariko found a way to prevent the immune system from launching an inflammatory reaction against lab-made mRNA, previously seen as a major hurdle against any therapeutic use of mRNA. Together with Weissman, she showed in 2005 that adjustments to nucleosides, the molecular letters that write the mRNA’s genetic code, can keep the mRNA under the immune system’s radar.
“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,” said Rickard Sandberg, member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute.
The two scientists will share some 10 million Swedish Krowns, the equivalent of $900,000. “I’ve reached both and they were very happy. It was great to talk to them,” the secretary of the judge’s panel said. “This time, I asked if the prize came as a surprise because I suspected it would not but Katalin said she was stunned. Drew was the same. He was grateful. I spoke to him moments before the announcement.”
The medicine prize kicks off this year’s awards with the remaining five to be announced in the coming days. The prizes, first handed out in 1901, were created by Swedish dynamite inventor and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel, and are awarded for achievements in science, literature and peace, and in later years also for economics.
The Swedish king will present the prizes at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death, followed by a lavish banquet at city hall.