Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó, co-inventor of the mRNA-based vaccination currently used in several variants of the COVID-19 vaccine, was honored with a five-story high mural in downtown Budapest.
Karikó (66), born in the central Hungarian town of Szolnok in 1955, studied biology at the Szeged University and received her PhD in biochemistry there in 1983. After being fired from the Szeged Biological Research Center in southern Hungary in 1985, she left for the United States, where she became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.
In 2012, Karikó and Drew Weissman, an immunologist at the same university, received a patent for the use of several modified nucleosides to reduce the antiviral immune response to mRNA.
Karikó said the advantage of the mRNA-based vaccine is that it can be produced quickly, plus it does not cause infection because it does not contain the entire gene pool of the virus and is therefore safe. Interestingly, it was also Norbert Pardi, a former researcher from Szeged, who demonstrated the immune effects of modified mRNA in the field of antiviral vaccines at the University of Pennsylvania.
In early 2013, when she realized she would not get the chance to apply her experience with mRNA at the University of Pennsylvania, Karikó accepted a position as senior-vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, which she still holds today.
The mural was the idea of the organizers of tech conference-cum-music festival Brain Bar, a Budapest event held every September since 2017, which blends entertainment with topical discussions about the future. Prior guests included conservative thinker Jordan Peterson, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Hanson Robotics’ social humanoid robot Sophia.
Title image: mRNA vaccine co-inventor Katalin Karikó portrayed on a mural in downtown Budapest. (MTI/Zoltán Balogh)