Professors Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, who developed the technology that led to the mRNA COVID vaccines, will share the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The Nobel Prize Committee said the two scientists’ discoveries were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020.
The Committee described the findings of the two laureates as groundbreaking.
The Committee said the findings had fundamentally changed the understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system.
“The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the Nobel Prize Committee stated.
Traditional vaccine technology has been based on dead or weakened versions of the original virus or bacterium – or by using fragments of the infectious agent.
In contrast, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines use a completely different approach.
An mRNA Covid vaccine contains the genetic instructions for building one component – a protein – from the coronavirus.
Once injected into the body, cells produce lots of the viral protein.
The immune system recognises these as foreign, launches an attack, and, as a result, learns how to fight the virus.
This means that the body gets a head start when future infections occur.
The technology was experimental before the pandemic.
But millions worldwide have received it to protect them against serious COVID-19.
Research is ongoing to use the technology for other diseases, including cancer.