Weekly newsletter

Katalin Karikó and her colleague, Drew Weissman, received the Breakthrough Prize due to their contribution in developing the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Each year, the Breakthrough Prize is awarded to scientists in three categories: Mathematics, Fundamental Physics, and Life Sciences. Karikó and Weissman received the latter. It shows the significance of the prize that many are calling it the ‘Oscars of science,’ and among the former winners we can find Stephen Hawking’s name.

Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who co-founded the award with his wife, Priscilla Chan, also congratulated Karikó and Weissman.

The winners were announced via the website for the award, and the following was written about Karikó and Weissman’s work:


“The scientific and medical response to Covid-19 has been unprecedented, and two of this year’s prizes are for breakthroughs that played a significant role in that response. The innovative vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna that have proven effective against the virus rely on decades of work by Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. Convinced of the promise of mRNA therapies despite widespread skepticism, they created a technology that is not only vital in the fight against the coronavirus today, but holds vast promise for future vaccines and treatments for a wide range of diseases including HIV, cancer, autoimmune, and genetic diseases.”

In Mathematics and Fundamental Physics, each prize was given to one person, however, Life Sciences was divided into three. The other winners in Karikó’s category were another group comprised of Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman, and Pascal Mayer; and Jeffery W. Kelly. All of their work was related to COVID-19.

Katalin Karikó is the first Hungarian to receive the Breakthrough Prize but it is certainly not the first time she has been recognized. She has won, among several other prizes, the Reichstein Medal, which many who have won a Nobel Prize later on, also received. The New York Times has written about her and she was also on the cover of Wired.

Featured image via Csilla Cseke/MTI