Scientists behind mRNA Covid vaccines win Nobel Prize

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags COVID-19 Vaccine Coronavirus

The Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to two scientists who developed the technology which led to the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

The prestigious accolade went to Drew Weissman, from the United States, and Katalin Kariko, from Hungary.

"Through their ground-breaking 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 awarding panel said.

The research by Weissman and Kariko led to the rapid development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines by BioNTech/Pfizer​ and Moderna ​during the height of the pandemic.

The widespread vaccination effort prevented millions of deaths and played an integral role in ending the pandemic.

To date, 5.5 billion doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, with $117 billion total sales value, according to UK health analytics firm Airfinity.

Weissman and Kariko first started working together at the University of Pennsylvania, US, in the 1990s. They formed a 12-year research partnership​ investigating how mRNA, a single-stranded RNA involved in protein synthesis, could be manipulated and administered to human cells.

mRNA technology delivers genetic instructions to cells in order to increase the production of proteins and antigens. These proteins then work as blueprints to identify which cells to search and destroy.

During the pandemic, mRNA vaccines were adjusted to produce and treat the spike protein found on the surface of COVID-19 virus cells.

Moving forward, the scientific community is hopeful that mRNA vaccines​ could treat other conditions including cancer and sickle cell disease.

Rickard Sandberg, a member of the Nobel Prize in medicine committee, said: “mRNA vaccines together with other Covid-19 vaccines have been administered over 13 billion times. Together they have saved millions of lives, prevented severe Covid-19, reduced the overall disease burden and enabled societies to open up again."

“This year’s Nobel Prize recognizes their basic science discovery that fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with immune system.”

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) added: “The COVID-19 pandemic affected each and every one of us, but through scientific and regulatory innovation and collaboration, we brought effective and very safe vaccines to the UK and came through it together."

“Today, the world congratulates Dr Katalin Kariko and Dr Drew Weissman, who have deservedly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for the development of the technology behind the vaccines that continue to keep millions of people safe around the world.

“We’ve all learned what’s possible when we apply the collective strength of the brilliant life sciences sector, and agile, enabling regulation, to our common goal of providing the best benefit risk balance and health outcomes for patients and the public.”

Related topics Biopharma Culture COVID-19

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