The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines was made possible by modified RNA technology, a world-changing discovery by the research team of Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. This will be recognised by the 2022 Breakthrough Award, which honours mRNA pioneers in the life sciences category, announced on 9 September 2021. The award, which comes with a cash prize of $3 million, is also known as the “Scientific Oscar Award”.
The most important discovery of the 21st century was made by Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Their mRNA-based technology and vaccines laid the foundations for the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Breakthrough Prize has been awarded since 2012. Among the people recognised so far are the British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and the first Hungarian scientist to be honoured is Katalin Karikó, an Alumna of the University of Szeged (SZTE).
The "Breakthrough Prize" is awarded annually in three categories - physiology, physics and mathematics. It recognises "paradigm-shifting research in science". It is the world's largest scientific award with a cash prize of $3-3 million per category. Also known as the "Scientific Oscar" award, the award for science researchers was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, among others.
Katalin Karikó studied biology at the University of Szeged between 1973-1978. She was awarded the title of Doctor of Biochemistry in 1982 after working as a researcher at the Biological Research Centre in Szeged. She started working with Drew Weissman at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. Their scientific discovery in 2005 is considered as a landmark in research. Their publication pointed out how mRNA can be modified without causing inflammation and can be used for therapeutic purposes. They also developed an efficient strategy to deliver mRNA into the body to reach the right target. The Karikó-Weissman research team paved the way for the creation of life-saving vaccines when the COVID-19 pandemic stunned the world in 2020. The mRNA-based vaccine is used in nearly 200 countries around the world.
For their innovative collaboration and discoveries, the two researchers jointly won the Rosenstiel and Horwitz Prizes, the "road to a Nobel Prize". On 9 September 2021 it was announced that Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman will be awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the world's largest cash prize in science. This is the 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.