Drew Weissman, Roberts Family Vaccine Research Professor at Perelman School of Medicine, and Katalin KarikÃ³, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Perelman School of Medicine and Senior Vice President of BioNTech, have been named 2022 Breakthrough Award recipients in Life Sciences for their mRNA-based vaccine technology that formed the basis of two SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that led the global battle against the virus. The largest science prizes in the world, each of the top five Breakthrough Prizes awards $ 3 million to its winner (s).
Drs. Weissman and KarikÃ³ teamed up with Penn over 20 years ago to study mRNA as a potential therapy. In 2005, they published landmark research that revealed how mRNA can be altered for therapeutic purposes and developed an effective strategy that allows mRNA to be delivered into the body to hit the right target. Prior to their discovery, the mRNA vaccines under development to prevent infectious diseases did not effectively and safely stimulate protective responses of the immune system in animal models. Their research in 2005 and subsequent results led to successful trials in animals and humans, and Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna licensed Penn technology which is used in vaccines, of which 360 million combined doses have now been administered to only United States. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is deployed in 126 countries around the world, and 71 countries are using the Moderna vaccine.
Drs. Weissman and KarikÃ³ received several national and international awards this year, including the Princess of Asturias Award (Almanac August 10, 2021) and the Albany Medical Center Award in Medicine and Biomedical Research (Almanac September 14, 2021).
âThe work of Drs. Weissman and KarikÃ³ form the scientific basis upon which these innovative and life-saving vaccines are built, âsaid J. Larry Jameson, University of Pennsylvania executive vice president for health system and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. âTheir discovery of how to chemically modify mRNA to more efficiently produce proteins in vivo laid the groundwork for the rapid development and deployment of mRNA vaccines and sparked a whole new way of looking at infectious disease prevention and new avenues for the treatment of cancer and other serious diseases.
Since its inception in 2013 by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki, the Breakthrough Prize has been awarded to outstanding figures in the fields of life sciences, mathematics and fundamental physics. With Drs. Weissman and KarikÃ³, this year’s recipients are Jeffery W. Kelly of the Scripps Research Institute; Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman of the University of Cambridge; and Pascal Mayer from Alphanosos. Traditionally celebrated at a live televised awards ceremony that honors the winners, the program will be postponed from this year to 2022 due to the pandemic.
Penn researcher Virginia Man-Yee Lee, 3rd John H. Ware Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the Perelman School of Medicine, received the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for Cellular Discoveries in Alzheimer’s Disease ‘Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and multisystem atrophy. Physicists Charles Kane and Eugene Mele of the School of Arts & Sciences won the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for new insights into topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that drive l electricity only on their surface.