News Release

PHILADELPHIA – Katalin Karikó, PhD, part of the University of Pennsylvania scientific team whose innovative research laid the foundation for COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, will receive the 2022 Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Biotechnology. The prize, from The Vilcek Foundation, is awarded to immigrants to the United States who change the country and the world or to those who are dedicated advocates of immigrants. Karikó will officially receive the award, which comes with $100,000, in the spring of 2022.

Originally from Hungary, Karikó, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior vice president at BioNTech, teamed up with colleague Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases at Penn, to study mRNA vaccines over two decades ago. In 2005, they published research which showed how to specifically alter one of the building blocks of mRNA in order to increase its therapeutic potential. That, along with other mRNA discoveries from the two scientists, including how to effectively deliver mRNA using vaccination, led to a path that BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna used to create mRNA vaccines for the COVID-19 virus.

Established in 2000 by Czechoslovakian immigrants Jan and Marica Vilcek, the nonprofit Vilcek Foundation was formed to promote the impact immigrants have on the United States and to build recognition of the sciences and the arts. The Vilcek Prize for Excellence has been awarded since 2019.

“Dr. Karikó’s work has obviously had a tremendous impact on science and medicine—but the development of mRNA vaccines based on her research also has a profound humanitarian significance,” said Marica Vilcek, Vilcek Foundation cofounder, vice chairman and secretary. “In enabling people and communities to return to normal activities and to connect with one another in person, her work has had a direct positive impact on global society.”

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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