Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for their work on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology that paved the way for groundbreaking Covid-19 vaccines.
The pair, who had been tipped as favourites, “contributed to the unprecedented speed of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times”, the jury said.
By honoring the pair this year, the Nobel Committee in Stockholm broke with the usual practice of honoring decades-old research.
Although the award-winning science dates back to 2005, the first vaccines to use mRNA technology were those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna against Covid-19.
Kariko from Hungary and Weissman from the United States, long-time colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, have won a slew of awards for their research, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021, often seen as a precursor to the Nobel Prize.
Unlike traditional vaccines that use a weakened virus or a key part of the virus’s protein, mRNA vaccines deliver the genetic molecules that tell cells what proteins to make, simulating an infection and training the immune system for when it is confronted with the real virus.
The idea was first demonstrated in 1990, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that Weissman and Kariko developed a technique to control a dangerous inflammatory response seen in animals exposed to these molecules, paving the way for the development of safe human vaccines.
Kariko and Weissman’s mRNA technology is now being used to develop other treatments for diseases and conditions such as cancer, flu and heart failure.
The pair will receive their Nobel Prize, consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and a check for $1 million, from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel, who left the prizes in his will.
Last year, the Medicine Prize went to the Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Paabo, who mapped the genome of the Neanderthal and discovered the previously unknown hominid Denisova.
Peace Prize for Iranian Women?
The Nobel season continues this week with the announcement of the winners of the Physics Prize on Tuesday and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday.
This will be followed by the long-awaited prizes for Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday.
The Economics Prize will wrap things up on Monday, October 9.
The prizes, first awarded in 1901, were created by Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel in his will to honor those who have “contributed the greatest benefit to humanity.”
Criticism of a lack of gender and geographic diversity has plagued Nobel laureates over the years.
US-based men have dominated the scientific fields, while women make up just six percent of the total laureates – something the various prize committees are pushing to pay attention to.
Among the names doing the rounds for the Literature Prize on Thursday are Russian author and outspoken Putin critic Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Chinese avant-garde writer Can Xue, British author Salman Rushdie, Caribbean-American writer Jamaica Kincaid and Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse .
But the Peace Prize has experts worrying about possible winners as conflict rages around the world.
Some have pointed to the Iranian women who have been protesting since the death in custody a year ago of Mahsa Amini, arrested for violating Iran’s strict dress code imposed on women.
Others suggest organizations documenting war crimes in Ukraine, or the International Criminal Court, could one day be called in to try these crimes.
“I think climate change is a very good focus for the Peace Prize this year,” Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told AFP after a year of extreme weather around the world.
For Tuesday’s Physics Prize, twisted graphene or the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica have been seen as possible winners, as well as the development of high-density data storage in the field of spintronics.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)