Stockholm: Scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries enabling the development of COVID-19 vaccines, the award-giving body said on Monday.
The prize, among the most prestigious in the scientific world, is selected by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute medical university and also comes with 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million).
"The 2023 NobelPrize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19," the body said.
While the prize-winning science dates back to 2005, the first vaccines to use the mRNA technology were those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna against Covid-19.
Kariko of Hungary and Weissman of the United States, longstanding colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, have won a slew of awards for their research, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021, often seen as a precursor to the Nobel.
Unlike traditional vaccines which use weakened virus or a key piece of the virus' protein, mRNA vaccines provide the genetic molecules that tell cells what proteins to make, which simulates an infection and trains the immune system for when it encounters the real virus.
The idea was first demonstrated in 1990, but it wasn't until the mid-2000s that Weissman and Kariko developed a technique to control a dangerous inflammatory response seen in animals exposed to these molecules, opening the way to develop safe human vaccines.
Kariko's and Weissman's mRNA technology is now being used to develop other treatments for diseases and illnesses such as cancer, influenza and heart failure.
The pair will receive their Nobel prize, consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and a $1 million cheque, from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
Last year, the Medicine Prize went to Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Paabo, who sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal and discovered the previously unknown hominin Denisova.
The medicine prize kicks off this year's awards with the remaining five to be unveiled in the coming days.
The prizes, first handed out in 1901, were created by Swedish dynamite inventor and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel, and are awarded for achievements in science, literature and peace, and in later years also for economics.
The Swedish king will present the prizes at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death, followed by a lavish banquet at city hall.
Last year's medicine prize went to Swede Svante Paabo for sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans, and for discovering a previously unknown human relative, the Denisovans.
Other past winners include Alexander Fleming, who shared the 1945 prize for the discovery of penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner in 1930 for his discovery of human blood groups.