Katalin Karikó, PhD, is a biochemist and researcher, best known for her contributions to mRNA technology and the COVID-19 vaccines. Karikó and co-collaborator Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, invented the modified mRNA technology used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection.
More than 15 years ago at Penn Medicine, Karikó and Weissman found a way to modify mRNA and later developed a delivery technique to package the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles. This made it possible for mRNA to reach the proper part of the body and trigger an immune response to fight disease.
These laboratory breakthroughs made mRNA safe, effective, and practical for use as a vaccine against COVID. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received FDA approval in August 2021, and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
Karikó is a senior vice president at BioNTech and an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania. She joined the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 and began collaborating with Weissman in 1997.
Karikó received her bachelor's degree in biology in 1978 and her doctorate in biochemistry in 1982 from the University of Szeged in her native Hungary. She was working at the Biological Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Szeged before immigrating to the United States in 1985.