The Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to two scientists for their research which led to the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.
The accolade, among the most prestigious in the scientific world, went to Katalin Kariko, from Hungary, and Drew Weissman, from the United States.
“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the panel that awarded the prize said.
Both COVID-19 vaccines Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna use something called messenger RNA (mRNA) to send genetic instructions to the body’s cells to recognise and destroy a particular part of the coronavirus called the spike protein.
When the body develops an immune response to this spike protein it is then able to fight off the coronavirus without having ever been exposed to the virus itself.
Ms Kariko is a professor at Sagan’s University in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
She was senior vice-president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022 and has since acted as an adviser to the German firm.
Mr Weismann performed his prize-winning research with Ms Kariko at the University of Pennsylvania.
The two have said they met in 1998 while waiting for rationed photocopying machine time. The ensuing chat piqued immunologist Mr Weissman’s interest in Ms Kariko’s RNA work.