Dr. Katalin Karikó has been awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine by the Royal Swedish Academy. She won the award with her American research colleague, Drew Weissman for laying the foundations for mRNA-based medicine, which has enabled the rapid development and practical application of new types of vaccines against coronavirus. Last year, Dr. Katalin Karikó received the Semmelweis Budapest Award, the university’s most prestigious recognition, from Dr. Béla Merkely, Rector of Semmelweis University. A video interview on this occasion is available below.

“I tell young people that when they decide what they want to do, what they want to dedicate their lives to, it should be something important and urgently needed. And of course they should enjoy what they do,” said Dr. Katalin Karikó in an interview with Semmelweis University staff on the occasion of the Semmelweis Budapest Award ceremony last December. In the video, which was made public today on Semmelweis University’s YouTube channel, Dr. Katalin Karikó also talks about how she feels when she is compared to Ignác Semmelweis, what she learned from her parents and what it is like to be caught up in the passion and excitement of her work on a research matter.

At last year’s award ceremony at Semmelweis University, Rector Dr. Béla Merkely emphasized that Dr. Katalin Karikó has been researching and experimenting with determination since the late seventies. She saw mRNA technology as a new method of treatment even before anyone had thought of it. Indeed, she persisted when no one believed her, and kept on working with perseverance even when she encountered difficulties and obstacles.

Dr. Katalin Karikó receives the Semmelweis Budapest Award from Rector Dr. Béla Merkely on 15 December 2022

Her discovery saved the lives of millions of people, and thanks to her, we now live in a safer world because we have a weapon against the COVID-19 virus,” he pointed out. “Thank you for teaching us not only to see, understand and appreciate the amazing potential of mRNA technology, but also to harness and utilize it. This gratitude is expressed by the award we have just handed over, which recognizes not only the outstanding work of a scientist, but also the excellence of the person: her unique perseverance and admirable tenacity,” the rector stressed at the ceremony in December 2022.

The Nobel Prize is awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their discoveries on nucleoside modification, which enabled the development of an effective mRNA-based vaccine against COVID-19, according to the Nobel Committee. The award winners have contributed to the unprecedentedly rapid development of vaccines at a time of one of the most serious threats to human health in the modern era with their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of the interaction between mRNA and the immune system,” MTI reported.

Dr. Katalin Karikó is the third Nobel Prize winner of Hungarian nationality and the first woman.

Katalin Karikó, a Széchenyi Prize-winning biochemist and research biologist, was born in 1955 in Szolnok, Hungary, and graduated from the University of Szeged in 1978, where she also obtained her PhD. She had been granted a scholarship by MTA to conduct research at the Nucleotide Chemistry Laboratory of the Institute of Biophysics at SZBK until 1985, and then did research at Temple University in Philadelphia and the University of Health Sciences in Bethesda. In 1989, she joined the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught and conducted research until 2013, when she became Vice President of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals. Since 2021, she has been a Research Professor at the University of Szeged and Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. (MTI)

Pálma Dobozi
Translation: Viktória Kiss
Photo: Bálint Barta – Semmelweis University