Penn mRNA pioneers receive the Princess of Asturias Award

Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó earned the prestigious honor for their foundational research that led to development of two lifesaving mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó, the pair of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania whose innovative mRNA research laid the foundation for development of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines being deployed across the globe, have been named among recipients of the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

The honor, from the Princess of Asturias Foundation (Fundación Princesa de Asturias), a Spanish non-profit organization, is conferred to individuals and organizations whose work makes significant contributions to humanity through scientific, technical, cultural, social, and humanitarian work.

Winners receive a prize of 50,000 Euros, and the recognition will be officially bestowed in October 2021 in Oviedo, Spain, during a ceremony presided over by their Majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain, accompanied by HRH Princess of Asturias Leonor.

Weissman, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research in Penn Medicine, and Karikó, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, published research in 2005 showing how to specifically alter one of the building blocks of mRNA to increase its therapeutic potential. These findings and other mRNA discoveries from the two scientists, including how to effectively deliver mRNA using vaccination, were crucial to the development of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines created by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.


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