Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó, co-inventor of the mRNA-based vaccination currently used in several variants of the Covid-19 vaccine, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with her fellow scientist, Drew Weissmann.
“I was asleep when the news came that we had won this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine. I thought the caller was joking,” Karikó told an online news conference broadcast by Pennsylvania University. Her husband answered the phone at their home in Philadelphia.
Karikó, 66, was born in the central Hungarian town of Szolnok in 1955 where she studied biology at the Szeged University anad 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.
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 accolades for Karikó have poured in from across the world, and of course, also from her native Hungary. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took to X to write his congratulations and share a photo of him and Karikó.
Karikó is the 16th Hungarian-born Nobel Prize winner, but only one of three who were still Hungarian citizens at the time of winning.