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Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman have won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries leading to the messenger RNA vaccines that played the most important role in the scientific battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The two researchers shared the SKr11mn ($1mn) prize for their “contribution to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times”, the Nobel Assembly in Stockholm said on Monday.
The work by Hungarian scientist Karikó and her US counterpart Weissman led directly to the rapid development of Covid vaccines based on messenger ribonucleic acid by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer during 2020. These vaccines played a major role in stemming the growing tide of coronavirus infections, helping authorities end the range of restrictions on social activity during the pandemic.
Working together at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s and 2000s, the pair discovered how mRNA — the biological molecule that translates genetic information into proteins — could be manipulated and delivered to human cells in a stable form.
They worked out how to prevent the immune system from destroying the mRNA, so that its instructions to make useful proteins could be applied in pharmaceutical and vaccine development.
Their most important research paper in 2005 initially attracted little scientific attention, the Nobel committee said, but interest picked up after follow-up studies in 2008 and 2010. Several biotech companies began to work on vaccines against viral infections — culminating in the successful rush to produce Covid jabs that were approved by regulators in 2021.
The medicine award is the first of this year’s six Nobels to be revealed. Prizes for physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced in the coming days.
Source: Financial Times