The scientists behind revolutionary messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, have won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work that underpins COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out across the globe.

In 1998, Dr. Karikó, an mRNA specialist from Hungary who harboured dreams of creating life-saving drugs, linked up with Dr. Weissman, a virologist seeking an HIV vaccine at the University of Pennsylvania.

In their pioneering work, first published back in 2005, they showed how to modify the mRNA such that it could bypass a cell’s destruction and get down to producing a protein for a certain target. Whereas traditional vaccines use modified viruses as agents of immune response, mRNAs instruct cells themselves to produce viral proteins, essentially tricking the body into thinking it is a real viral infection for enhanced immunity.

At its initial stage, major scientific publications slammed off their innovation. However, biotech firms Moderna and BioNTech picked up from the breakthrough and collaborated with them in creating COVID-19 vaccines utilizing said mechanism.

These vaccines, especially the ones developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, have revolutionized the field of vaccine development in disease prevention, with their effectiveness sealing the destiny of mRNA technology in further vaccine discovery.

The success of Karikó and Weissman’s innovative science has not only revamped how COVID-19 is being fought but also offers an unparalleled chance to be able to work on other diseases as well as change the face of vaccine technology.

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