Responsible for developing the unprecedented technology of mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines against COVID-19, scientists Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó have just received the 2022 Breakthrough Prize millionaire award in the life sciences category. As a reward for the feat that provided immunizations to millions of people, the pair of researchers earned US$ 3 million (about 15.8 million reais).
It is worth explaining that the Breakthrough Prize is considered one of the biggest prizes in the world for researchers in the fields of life science, mathematics and physics. Founded in 2013, the award has selected technology exponents and monetary rewards are awarded by the initiative’s founders. They are: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg; Sergey Brin; Yuri and Julia Milner; and Anne Wojcicki.
As for this year’s winning pair of scientists, Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó are researchers and professors at the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States. Additionally, Karikó is the Senior Vice President of BioNTech.
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History of mRNA vaccine research
To arrive at the vaccine formulas of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, a long path was covered by the pair of researchers. Weissman and Karikó teamed up more than 20 years ago to investigate mRNA as a potential therapeutic immunizer.
In 2005, the pair began publishing research that demonstrated how mRNA could be safely and more effectively altered and used for therapeutic purposes. They even developed an effective strategy that allows the mRNA to be delivered to the body to reach the proper target.
Prior to this discovery, potential mRNA vaccines developed to prevent infectious diseases did not significantly stimulate immune system responses, that is, they did not trigger the expected protection. Thus, most studies stopped at tests in animal models and clinical tests (with humans) do not usually arrive.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology was already well developed and it was possible to adapt it to sensitize the human body against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Today, both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use technology licensed from the University of Pennsylvania and researchers.
“Convinced of the promise of mRNA therapies, despite widespread skepticism, they have created a technology that is not only vital in the fight against the coronavirus today, but holds great promise for future vaccines and treatments for a wide range of diseases, including HIV, cancer, autoimmune diseases and genetic diseases,” the Breakthrough Foundation wrote in a statement.
Source: Live Science and Penn Today
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