The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced today, and has been awarded to Drs. Karolin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their “discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19”. This critical work, first published in 2005, examines how in vitro transcribed mRNA elicits an unwanted inflammatory response when injected into the human body, and identifies how this reaction can be avoided by modifying the mRNA transcript in ways similar to those naturally performed by cells. Specifically, the nucleoside uridine (the RNA analogue of thymidine in DNA) is replaced by pseudouridine, wherein a carbon and a nitrogen in the nucleobase are switched in position relative to uridine.
This discovery was of enormous importance in the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, making possible the base-modified mRNA vaccines delivered by Pfizer and Moderna. These vaccines, along with others produced using different approaches, have saved millions of lives and prevented severe disease in even more cases. We sincerely congratulate Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman on their well-deserved Nobel Prize!
More information about the nature and context of their work can be found in the press release put out by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Intituet.