top of page

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology: An Exploration of mRNA Vaccines and Their Mechanism

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2023 was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. The Nobel Prize committee recognized that their mRNA technology played a crucial role in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, which helped the world combat the pandemic. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first mRNA-based vaccines were created, primarily by Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2023 was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. The Nobel Prize committee recognized that their mRNA technology played a crucial role in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, which helped the world combat the pandemic. To learn more about the scientists who developed this technology:

Katalin Karikó, born in 1955 in Szolnok, Hungary, embarked on her remarkable academic journey in the field of RNA research. She earned her PhD from Szeged's University in 1982, followed by a period of postdoctoral research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Szeged until 1985. Subsequently, she pursued further postdoctoral research at renowned institutions such as Temple University in Philadelphia and the University of Health Science in Bethesda.

In 1989, Katalin Karikó began her career as an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she continued to make significant contributions to the field of mRNA technology until 2013. Her groundbreaking work paved the way for advancements in the development of mRNA-based therapies.

In the years that followed, Katalin Karikó assumed pivotal roles in the field of RNA Pharmaceuticals. She served as Vice President and later as Senior Vice President at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, a leading company in the biotechnology sector known for its pioneering work in mRNA-based vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

In recognition of her immense contributions, Katalin Karikó returned to Szeged University in 2021, where she currently holds the position of Professor. Additionally, she serves as an Adjunct Professor at the prestigious Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, solidifying her status as a prominent figure in the field of RNA research and mRNA technology. Her journey exemplifies dedication, innovation, and a commitment to advancing scientific knowledge for the betterment of humanity.

2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Drew Weissman and Katalin Kariko"
In 2023, American immunologist Drew Weissman and Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko were honored with the Nobel Prize in medicine.

The discovery of mRNA dates back to 1961, but scientists were still trying to understand how it could be used to produce proteins in the body. Karikó was interested in this area of research but faced a lack of funding. In 1990, her boss at the University of Pennsylvania gave her the option to either leave her job or become a lab technician. Karikó was demoted, but she remained determined to pursue her research on developing vaccines and drugs for rare diseases. At the same time, research was ongoing worldwide to explore whether mRNA could be used to create specific antibodies to fight viral infections. In 1997, Drew Weissman joined the University of Pennsylvania, where Karikó was working.

Drew Weissman provided funding and support:

Drew Weissman is a renowned immunologist. He provided funding and support to Katalin Karikó. Later, they formed a partnership to work on this technology together. In 2005, Drew and Karikó published a research paper claiming that modified mRNA could boost immunity, potentially leading to the development of drugs and vaccines for various diseases.

Despite their groundbreaking research, it went unnoticed for several years. In 2010, American scientist Derrick Rossi established the biotech company Moderna to develop vaccines using modified mRNA. In 2013, Karikó was appointed as Senior Vice President at the German company BioNTech.

Their collaborative efforts and persistence in mRNA research have revolutionized vaccine development and have been instrumental in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods for vaccine production before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Methods for vaccine production before the COVID-19 pandemic.

mRNA, or messenger RNA, is a small part of the genetic code that plays a crucial role in our cells. To put it in simple terms, when our body is attacked by a virus or bacteria, mRNA technology sends a message to our cells to produce proteins to fight against that virus or bacteria. This helps our immune system get the necessary proteins and create antibodies in our body.

The biggest advantage of this technology is that it can create vaccines more quickly compared to conventional vaccines. Additionally, it strengthens the body's immune response.

The Prestigious Nobel Prizes: Celebrating Excellence in Various Fields"

The Nobel Prizes, regarded as the pinnacle of recognition in the world of academia, science, and peace advocacy, have a rich history dating back to the late 19th century. Instituted by the will of Swedish inventor and entrepreneur Alfred Nobel, these awards have been honoring exceptional individuals and their groundbreaking contributions to humanity for over a century.

The Genesis of Nobel Prizes:

The story of the Nobel Prizes begins with Alfred Nobel, a brilliant inventor known for inventing dynamite. Born in 1833, Nobel was a man of diverse interests, contributing significantly to various scientific and industrial fields. However, his greatest legacy would emerge from a profound sense of responsibility.

In his will, Nobel bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to establish a fund that would grant awards in five specific categories: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. This visionary act was a testament to his desire to leave a lasting positive impact on the world, as he believed that the creations he developed could be harnessed for the betterment of humanity.

Nobel Prizes awarded for outstanding scientific contributions in physics and chemistry, remarkable medical breakthroughs in medicine or physiology, exceptional literary achievements in literature, extraordinary efforts for world peace in peace, and significant contributions to economics in economics

The Categories of Nobel Prizes:

Physics: The Nobel Prize in Physics acknowledges outstanding contributions to the field of physics, which encompasses the study of the fundamental laws governing the universe. Past laureates have revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos, from the discovery of subatomic particles to the theory of relativity.

Chemistry: Celebrating advancements in chemistry, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes those who have pushed the boundaries of chemical science. Innovations in chemical synthesis, molecular biology, and materials science have all been rewarded by this prestigious prize.

Physiology or Medicine: Awarded for exceptional contributions to medical science, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has recognized discoveries that have transformed healthcare. From groundbreaking research in genetics to the development of life-saving vaccines, laureates have played a crucial role in improving human well-being.

Literature: The Nobel Prize in Literature celebrates the art of literary expression. Authors, poets, and playwrights who have made exceptional contributions to world literature are honored for their ability to illuminate the human experience through words.

Peace: The Nobel Peace Prize is perhaps the most widely recognized of all Nobel Prizes. It acknowledges individuals and organizations that have dedicated themselves to the promotion of peace, the resolution of conflicts, and the protection of human rights on a global scale.

Economic Sciences: Although not part of Alfred Nobel's original bequest, the Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) added the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in the 1960s. This prize honors advancements in the field of economics, recognizing contributions that have profound implications for society.

Selection Process:

Nobel Prize Ceremony

The responsibility of selecting Nobel laureates lies with various Swedish institutions and committees, as outlined in Nobel's will. These institutions, including the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, and the Swedish Academy, carefully evaluate and choose the recipients of each Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prizes stand as a testament to human achievement and innovation. They not only celebrate remarkable individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to their respective fields but also embody the spirit of Alfred Nobel's vision – a vision that continues to inspire, honor, and promote excellence in the quest to improve our world.

In a world that often focuses on the negative, the Nobel Prizes remind us of the positive impact that dedicated individuals can have on society, and they serve as a beacon of hope for a brighter future.


bottom of page