Drew Weissman

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Drew Weissman
Drew Weissman.png
Alma materBrandeis University (B.A., M.A.)
Boston University (M.D., Ph.D.)
OrganizationPerelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Known formodified mRNA technologies used in COVID-19 vaccines
TitleProfessor of medicine
AwardsLasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (2021)

Drew Weissman (born 1958 or 1959[1]) is a physician-scientist best known for his contributions to RNA biology. His work helped enable development of effective mRNA vaccines, the best known of which are those for COVID-19 produced by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.[2] Weissman is a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He and his research colleague Katalin Karikó have received numerous awards including the presigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Education and training

Weissman grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts.[1] He received his B.A. and M.A. from Brandeis University in 1981, where he majored in biochemistry and enzymology and he worked in the lab of Gerald Fasman.[3] He performed his graduate work at Boston University in immunology and microbiology where he received his M.D. and Ph.D in 1987.[4] Afterward, Weissman did a residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, followed by a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the supervision of Anthony Fauci, the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.[5]


In 1997, Weissman moved to the University of Pennsylvania to start his laboratory in order to study RNA and innate immune system biology. He is now the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research at the university.[6]

At the university Weissman, an immunologist studying vaccines, met his future colleague and collaborator Katalin Karikó at a photocopy machine, where they sympathized about the lack of funding for RNA research. At the time, Karikó had been trying RNA therapy on cerebral diseases and strokes.[7] Weissman began collaborating with Karikó, who then switched her focus to the application of RNA technology to vaccines. The main obstacle they faced was that the RNA was causing unwanted immune and inflammatory reactions as adverse responses. In 2005, they published a landmark study that used synthetic nucleosides to modify the RNA to prevent its degradation by the body.[8] This breakthrough laid the groundwork for the use of RNA therapeutics. In 2006, he and Karikó co-founded RNARx. Their objective was to develop novel RNA therapies. In 2020 their modified RNA technology became the key foundational component of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which were deployed worldwide against the COVID-19 pandemic.[9] Weissman hopes that the same technology can be used to develop vaccines against influenza, herpes, and HIV.[1]

Weissman also has been collaborating with scientists in Chulalongkorn University, Thailand to develop and provide COVID-19 vaccines for the country and neighboring low-income countries that may not have immediate access to the vaccine.[2]


Both Weissman and Karikó were awarded the 2020 Rosenstiel Award.[10] He was given an honorary degree by the Drexel University College of Medicine.[1] In 2021, he was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award in the category "Scientific Research".[11] Also in 2021 he and Karikó received the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize,[12] the Albany Medical Center Prize,[13] and the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.[14]

According to a report in The Washington Post, Weissman gets fan mail from people all over the world, thanking him for his work that made the Covid-19 vaccine possible — one said "You’ve made hugs and closeness possible again" — and asking him for a picture or his autograph.[1]


Weissman is the inventor on many patents, including US8278036B2 [15] and US8748089B2,[16] which detail the modifications required to make RNA suitable for vaccines and other therapies. Later, these patents were licensed to Gary Dahl, founder and CEO of Cellscript, who subsequently licensed the technology to Moderna and BioNTech to ultimately use in their COVID-19 vaccines.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Carolyn Y. (October 1, 2021). "A scientific hunch. Then silence. Until the world needed a lifesaving vaccine". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "This Philly Scientist's Technology Helped Make the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Possible". November 12, 2020.
  3. ^ "The Brandeis alum whose research may lead to a COVID-19 vaccine". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  4. ^ "Drew Weissman | Faculty | About Us | Perelman School of Medicine | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania". www.med.upenn.edu. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  5. ^ Johnson, Carolyn Y. "A gamble pays off in 'spectacular success': How the leading coronavirus vaccines made it to the finish line". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  6. ^ "Drew Weissman, MD, PhD profile". www.pennmedicine.org. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  7. ^ "Drew Weissman, l'architecte des vaccins contre le Covid-19". LEFIGARO (in French). Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  8. ^ Karikó, Katalin; Buckstein, Michael; Ni, Houping; Weissman, Drew (August 2005). "Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA". Immunity. 23 (2): 165–175. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2005.06.008. ISSN 1074-7613. PMID 16111635.
  9. ^ "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines". Center for Disease Control and Prevention. March 4, 2021. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  10. ^ "Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research". www.brandeis.edu. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
  11. ^ IT, Developed with webControl CMS by Intermark. "Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman, Philip Felgner, Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci, Derrick Rossi and Sarah Gilbert – Laureates – Princess of Asturias Awards". The Princess of Asturias Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  12. ^ "The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize". Columbia University Irving Medical Center. June 14, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  13. ^ Albany Medical Center Prize 2021
  14. ^ Hofschneider, Mark. "Modified mRNA vaccines". Lasker Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  15. ^ "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  16. ^ "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  17. ^ Dolgin, Elie (June 4, 2015). "Business: The billion-dollar biotech". Nature News. 522 (7554): 26–28. Bibcode:2015Natur.522...26D. doi:10.1038/522026a. PMID 26040878. S2CID 4450181.
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