Two scientists whose discovery led to the first COVID-19 vaccines received a Nobel Prize this week.
Dr. Katalin Karikó and Dr. Drew Weissman won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It’s considered one of the scientific community’s most prestigious accolades.
The Nobel Prize selection body said this year’s winners “contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”
The Nobel Prize
University of Pennsylvania researchers Karikó and Weissman proved for the first time that genetic material known as mRNA was useful in vaccinations.
Scientists can produce mRNA vaccines faster than traditional vaccines.
They work by giving the immune system information about a virus and teaching it how to respond to that virus in the future.
They published their findings in 2005, but received little attention until the pandemic.
Nobel officials noted the discovery “laid the foundation for critically important developments that have served humanity during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Moderna and Pfizer developed mRNA vaccines that were manufactured and distributed at a faster rate than ‘vector’ vaccines like AstraZeneca.
According to researchers, mRNA technology may also be useful in future cancer treatments. It could also assist with seasonal flu and HIV vaccines.
The prize comes with 11 million Swedish krona (about $AUD 1.56 million).