The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded Monday to the Hungarian Katalin Kariko and the American Drew Weissman for their discoveries in the field of messenger RNA (mRNA) which opened the way to vaccines against Covid-19.
The two researchers were distinguished “for their discoveries concerning the modifications of the nucleic bases which allowed the development of effective mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 during the pandemic which began at the beginning of 2020”, announced the jury when announcing the reward . “The laureates have contributed to the development at an unprecedented pace of vaccines in response to one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” continues the press release from the Nobel Assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. , in Sweden.
The two researchers had been working on developing messenger RNA vaccine technology for several decades, and it was the Covid-19 pandemic that demonstrated the power and flexibility of their approach. Unlike traditional vaccines, which both take a long time to develop and require several months to be produced in the laboratory, messenger RNA technology has greatly accelerated both processes.
Two laboratories, BioNTech in Germany (in association with Pfizer) and Moderna in the United States, managed to develop the formulation of their vaccine against Sars-CoV-2 in a few weeks, at the beginning of 2020. And this was made possible by the publication, by Chinese scientists, in January 2020 of the sequencing of the virus that appeared in Wuhan. From this description, scientists from Moderna and BioNTech identified the part of the sequence which is used to produce the Spike protein of the virus, the “key” for entry into human cells. It is this strand of RNA, slightly modified, which was introduced into both vaccines. Once injected into the body, this messenger RNA sequence serves as an “instruction manual” for human cells which then produce the Spike protein themselves, which induces an immune reaction to protect the body against the most severe effects of Covid.
The rest of the story is known, and the vaccination of several billion people around the world from the end of 2020 (with other vaccines based on more “classic” technologies, including those from AstraZeneca) made it possible “to save millions of lives and prevent severe forms of the disease for millions of others, allowing our societies to emerge from confinement and return to normal living conditions,” recalled the Nobel committee.