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Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering mRNA applications for corona vaccines

The two, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, were informed about a month ago that they had won the HARVEI Award at the Technion

2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine winners Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Ill. Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach
2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine winners Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Ill. Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to Kathleen Crico and Drew Weissman for their pioneering research into the modification of nucleotide bases in mRNA. This discovery paved the way for the rapid development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

The members of the award committee at the Karolinska Institute explain that vaccines work by stimulating an immune response against a pathogen. Traditional vaccines have used weakened or killed viruses, but new methods use parts of the virus's genetic material to make immune-stimulating proteins. However, the production of these vaccines requires extensive cell culture facilities. Therefore, researchers sought to develop mRNA as a cell culture-independent vaccine technology.

In the 90s, Crico Weissman began to collaborate in researching how different types of RNA work with the immune system. They found that lab-synthesized mRNA caused inflammation, while natural mRNA did not. They hypothesized that chemical changes in the mRNA bases might be the crucial difference. By testing mRNA with mutated bases, they showed that changing the bases suppressed the inflammatory response. They also found that altered mRNA significantly increased protein production compared to unaltered mRNA. These discoveries were published starting in 2005 and eliminated two major obstacles to the therapeutic use of mRNA.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, two pharmaceutical companies used Crico Weissman's discoveries to rapidly develop modified mRNA vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The vaccines were approved in December 2020, just a year into the pandemic. Now over 13 billion doses have been given. The speed and flexibility of mRNA vaccine development represents a paradigm shift in immunology. Beyond COVID-19, mRNA vaccines can be applied against other infectious diseases and even in immunotherapy against cancer. For their seminal work in elucidating how base changes make mRNA non-inflammatory and highly efficient, Crico Weissman has been awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

And again... the Technion's Harvey Prize predicts a Nobel Prize

In August, the Technion announced that the Harvey Prize, the most prestigious award given by the Technion, will be given to biochemist Prof. Katelyn Crico and immunologist Prof. Drew Weissman for their contribution to the development of corona vaccines. This morning the two were informed that they are the winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine for 2023.

Weissman and Crico will receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine "for their discoveries that led to the development of effective mRNA vaccines for Corona".

Prof. Crico became known for her persistence in working on mRNA in view of the refusal of the academic establishment in those days to recognize the medical potential of those molecules. She and her colleague Prof. Weissman led pioneering work in the development of improved mRNA (nucleoside-modified mRNA), which leads to the suppression of the inflammatory response to mRNA molecules and paves the way for RNA-based treatments.

The two will receive the Harvey Prize at the Technion in June 2024 with their colleague Prof. Peter Kallis for their research, which enabled, among other things, the rapid development of corona vaccines and their rapid delivery, thus saving millions of people around the world. Their scientific discoveries caused a revolution and led to the development of new types of drugs and genetic therapies that greatly contributed to human well-being.

"The Technion is proud to recognize the enormous importance of the engineering of mRNA molecules for the development of vaccines. The technology that the three developed constitutes a revolution in the pharmaceutical world," said the president of the Technion, Prof. Uri Sion.

#KatalinKarikó , #DrewWeissman, #NobelPrize, #medicine, #vaccines, #mRNA, #COVID19, #coronavirus, #pandemic, #science, #research, #health, @HerveiPrize

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  1. Recommendation for an Israeli Nobel Prize

    publication in the press

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