Katalin Karikó

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Katalin Karikó
Karikó Katalin Szegeden.jpg
Karikó in 2021
Born (1955-01-17) 17 January 1955 (age 67)
  • Hungarian
  • American
Alma materUniversity of Szeged
Known formRNA technology in immunology and therapies
SpouseBéla Francia
ChildrenSusan Francia
Scientific career
FieldsBiochemistry; RNA technologies

Katalin Karikó (Hungarian: Karikó Katalin, pronounced [ˈkɒrikoː ˌkɒtɒlin]; born 17 January 1955) is a Hungarian-American biochemist who specializes in RNA-mediated mechanisms. Her research has been the development of in vitro-transcribed mRNA for protein therapies. She co-founded and was CEO of RNARx, from 2006 to 2013.[1] Since 2013, she has been associated with BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, first as a vice president and promoted to senior vice president in 2019.[2] She also is an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

Karikó's work includes the scientific research of RNA-mediated immune activation, resulting in the co-discovery with American immunologist Drew Weissman of the nucleoside modifications that suppress the immunogenicity of RNA.[3][4][5] This is seen as further contribution to the therapeutic use of mRNA.[6] Together with Weissman, she holds U.S. patents for the application of non-immunogenic, nucleoside-modified RNA. This technology has been licensed by BioNTech and Moderna to develop their protein replacement technologies but was also used for their COVID-19 vaccines.[7] Karikó and Weissman have received many awards, including the prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award , Time Magazine's Hero of the Year 2021 and Tang Prize Award in Biopharmaceutical Science in 2022

Early life and education

Karikó grew up in Kisújszállás, Hungary, in a small home without running water, a refrigerator, or television.[8] Her father was a butcher and her mother was a bookkeeper.[8][9] The family were members of the Reformed Church in Hungary.[10] She excelled in science during her primary education, earning third place in the country in a biology competition.[8] She attended Móricz Zsigmond Református Gimnázium, a Protestant school.[11]

After earning her Ph.D. at the University of Szeged, Karikó continued her research and postdoctoral studies at the Institute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Centre of Hungary. In 1985, the lab lost its funding, and she left Hungary for the United States with her husband and 2-year daughter.[8] When immigrating to the US, they smuggled in £900 in a teddy bear, money that they had received from selling their car on the black market.[12][13]


Between 1985 and 1988, while serving as postdoctoral fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, (88-89) Karikó participated in a clinical trial in which patients with AIDS, hematologic diseases, and chronic fatigue syndrome were treated with double stranded RNA (dsRNA). At the time, this was considered groundbreaking research, as the molecular mechanism of interferon induction by dsRNA was not known, although the antiviral and antineoplastic effects of interferon were well documented.[14]

In 1989, she was hired by the University of Pennsylvania and worked with cardiologist Elliot Barnathan on Messenger RNA (mRNA).[8] In 1990, while an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Karikó submitted her first grant application in which she proposed to establish mRNA-based gene therapy.[2] Ever since, mRNA-based therapy has been Karikó's primary research interest. She was on track to become full professor, but grant rejections led to her being demoted by the university in 1995.[7] She stayed on and in 1997, she met Drew Weissman, professor of immunology at the University of Pennsylvania.[15] Her persistence was noted as exceptional against the norms of academic research work conditions.[16]

Karikó's key insight came about after she focused on why transfer RNA used as a control in an experiment did not provoke the same immune reaction as messenger RNA.[9] Their key finding of a chemical modification of mRNA to render it non-immunogenic was rejected by the journals Nature and Science, but eventually accepted by the niche publication "Immunity".[3] In a series of articles beginning in 2005, Karikó and Weissman described how specific nucleoside modifications in mRNA led to a reduced immune response.[15] They founded a small company and, in 2006 and 2013, received patents for the use of several modified nucleosides to reduce the antiviral immune response to mRNA. Soon afterward, the university sold the intellectual property license to Gary Dahl, the head of a lab supply company that eventually became Cellscript. Weeks later, Flagship Pioneering, the venture capital company backing Moderna, contacted her to license the patent. All Karikó said was "we don't have it".[2]

In early 2013, Karikó heard of Moderna's $240 million deal with AstraZeneca to develop a Vascular endothelial growth factor mRNA. Karikó realized that she would not get a chance to apply her experience with mRNA at the University of Pennsylvania, so she took a role as vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals[2] (and subsequently became a senior vice president in 2019).

Her research and specializations include messenger RNA-based gene therapy, RNA-induced immune reactions, molecular bases of ischemic tolerance, and treatment of brain ischemia.

Scientific contributions

The work and research of Karikó was a foundation for BioNTech and Moderna to create therapeutic mRNAs that do not induce an immune response.[2] In 2020, the Karikó and Weissman technology was however also used within vaccines for COVID-19 that were produced by Pfizer (developed by BioNTech)[6][15] and by Moderna.


US8278036B2[17] & US8748089B2[18] – This invention provides RNA, oligoribonucleotide, and polyribonucleotide molecules comprising pseudouridine or a modified nucleoside, gene therapy vectors comprising same, methods of synthesizing same, and methods for gene replacement, gene therapy, gene transcription silencing, and the delivery of therapeutic proteins to tissue in vivo, comprising the molecules. The present invention also provides methods of reducing the immunogenicity of RNA, oligoribonucleotide, and polyribonucleotide molecules.[17][18]

Awards and honors

1975 – 2009




Selected publications

Personal life

Karikó is married to Béla Francia. They are the parents of two-time Olympic gold medalist Susan Francia.[6] Their grandson, Alexander Bear Amos, was born in the U.S. in February 2021 to their daughter and son-in-law, architect Ryan Amos. Karikó was able to be present for her grandson's birth.[82][83]


In April 2021, The New York Times featured her career that laid the groundwork for mRNA vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.[9] On June 10, 2021, The Daily podcast from The New York Times highlighted Karikó's career, emphasizing the many challenges she had to overcome before her work was recognized.[84]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Katalin Karikó". 8th International mRNA Health Conference. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e Amanda B Keener (1 September 2018). "Just the messenger". Nature Medicine. 24 (9): 1297–1300. doi:10.1038/S41591-018-0183-7. ISSN 1078-8956. PMID 30139958. S2CID 52074565. Wikidata Q91114205.
  3. ^ a b Katalin Karikó; Michael Buckstein; Houping Ni; Drew Weissman (August 2005). "Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA". Immunity. 23 (2): 165–75. doi:10.1016/J.IMMUNI.2005.06.008. ISSN 1074-7613. PMID 16111635. Wikidata Q24316383.
  4. ^ Bart R. Anderson; Hiromi Muramatsu; Subba R Nallagatla; Philip C. Bevilacqua; Lauren H. Sansing; Drew Weissman; Katalin Karikó (10 May 2010). "Incorporation of pseudouridine into mRNA enhances translation by diminishing PKR activation". Nucleic Acids Research. 38 (17): 5884–5892. doi:10.1093/NAR/GKQ347. ISSN 0305-1048. PMC 2943593. PMID 20457754. Wikidata Q34146278.
  5. ^ Katalin Karikó; Hiromi Muramatsu; Frank A Welsh; János Ludwig; Hiroki Kato; Shizuo Akira; Drew Weissman (16 September 2008). "Incorporation of pseudouridine into mRNA yields superior nonimmunogenic vector with increased translational capacity and biological stability". Molecular Therapy. 16 (11): 1833–1840. doi:10.1038/MT.2008.200. ISSN 1525-0016. PMC 2775451. PMID 18797453. Wikidata Q37416925.
  6. ^ a b c Kollewe, Julia (21 November 2020). "Covid vaccine technology pioneer: 'I never doubted it would work'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b Garde, Damian; Saltzman, Jonathan (10 November 2020). "The story of mRNA: From a loose idea to a tool that may help curb Covid". STAT. Retrieved 10 January 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Carolyn Y. (1 October 2021). "A one-way ticket. A cash-stuffed teddy bear. A dream decades in the making". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Kolata, Gina (8 April 2021). "Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Historical Records and Family Trees". MyHeritage. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  11. ^ "Médecine : Katalin Karikó ou la revanche de l'ARN messager". woxx (in German). 16 January 2021. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  12. ^ "Katalin Kariko, the scientist behind the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine". France 24. 18 December 2020. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  13. ^ "Covid vaccine technology pioneer: 'I never doubted it would work'". The Guardian. 11 November 2020. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  14. ^ Schwarz-Romond, Thomas (7 November 2016). "Transforming RNA research into future treatments: Q&A with 2 biotech leaders". Elsevier Connect. Retrieved 27 April 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ a b c Cox, David (2 December 2020). "How mRNA went from a scientific backwater to a pandemic crusher". Wired. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  16. ^ Scales, David (12 February 2021). "How Our Brutal Science System Almost Cost Us A Pioneer Of mRNA Vaccines". WBUR-FM. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  17. ^ a b US 8278036, Kariko K, Weissman D, "RNA containing modified nucleosides and methods of use thereof", issued 21 August 2006, assigned to University of Pennsylvania 
  18. ^ a b US 8748089, Kariko K, Weissman D, "RNA containing modified nucleosides and methods of use thereof", issued 15 March 2013, assigned to University of Pennsylvania 
  19. ^ Tudományegyetem, Szegedi (9 April 2020). "Szegedi Tudományegyetem | A koronavírus elleni legígéretesebb vakcinafejlesztés megalapozója Karikó Katalin, az SZTE alumnusa". u-szeged.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  20. ^ Újszállási Rácz Lajos: Újszállási találkozunk Az 1975. május 31-én alakult öregdiákok baráti köre tiszteletére, 137. o. (2015)
  21. ^ "Önkormányzati kitüntetettek" [Municipal honorees]. kisujszallas.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  22. ^ "Karikó Katalin biokémikus kapta az első Közmédia Év Embere Díjat" [Biochemist Katalin Karikó received the first Public Media Man of the Year Award]. Duna Médiaszolgáltató (in Hungarian). 5 January 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  23. ^ "Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research". Brandeis University. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  24. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  25. ^ "Press Release". www.amc.edu. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  26. ^ "Bill Foege Global Health Awards - 2021". www.map.org. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  27. ^ "Karikó Katalin kapja idén a Bolyai-díjat". telex.hu (in Hungarian). 1 October 2021. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  28. ^ Building the Foundation Award 2021
  29. ^ "A MAGYAR HIGIÉNIKUSOK TÁRSASÁGA EMLÉKÜLÉST TARTOTT". nnk.gov.hu (in Hungarian). 20 May 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  30. ^ "Rangos elismerést kap Magyarországon Karikó Katalin" [Katalin Karikó receives prestigious recognition in Hungary]. Magyar Nemzet (in Hungarian). 12 February 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  31. ^ "50 Over 50 2021". Forbes. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  32. ^ "2021: Making mRNA". The Golden Goose Award. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  33. ^ "Karikó Katalin újabb fontos tudományos díjat kapott". index.hu (in Hungarian). 28 September 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  34. ^ "Communiqué de presse : Katalin Karikó lauréate de la Grande Médaille 2021 de l'Académie des sciences | Communiqués de presse | Presse | Transmettre les connaissances". www.academie-sciences.fr. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  35. ^ "Cambridge Union launches first-ever scholarship programme for STEM students". Varsity Online. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  36. ^ Szabó, Viktor (12 March 2021). "Karikó Katalin lett Csongrád-Csanád megye díszpolgára" [Katalin Karikó became an honorary citizen of Csongrád-Csanád county]. promenad.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  37. ^ "BioNTech's Karikó to Receive Honorary Citizenship of Szeged". hungarytoday.hu. 20 January 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  38. ^ "Meet the Honorary Degree Recipients for the 2020 Commencement". today.duke.edu. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  39. ^ "BioNTech's Karikó to be awarded honorary doctorate by University of Szeged". dailynewshungary.com. 27 January 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  40. ^ "Újabb tengeren túli elismerésben részesült Karikó Katalin" [Katalin Karikó received another overseas accolade]. ripost.hu (in Hungarian). 4 February 2021. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  41. ^ "Two Pioneering RNA Scientists Win the 2021 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research". Content Lab U.S. 28 September 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  42. ^ "Átadták az idei Jedlik Ányos-díjakat". sztnh.gov.hu (in Hungarian). 9 June 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  43. ^ Avril, Tom (30 September 2021). "Penn RNA scientists win Philly's Scott award for research used in COVID-19 vaccines". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  44. ^ "The 2021 Keio Medical Science Prize Awardees - Keio Medical Science Prize - Keio University Medical Science Fund". www.ms-fund.keio.ac.jp. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  45. ^ Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award
  46. ^ "Penn mRNA Scientists Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó Receive 2021 Lasker Award, America's Top Biomedical Research Prize - Penn Medicine". www.pennmedicine.org. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  47. ^ "Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman Awarded Horwitz Prize for Pioneering Research on COVID-19 Vaccines". Columbia University Irving Medical Center. 12 August 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  48. ^ "The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize". Columbia University Irving Medical Center. 14 June 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  49. ^ "Katalin Karikó | The National Inventors Hall of Fame". www.invent.org. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  50. ^ "Home | New York Academy of Medicine". www.nyam.org. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  51. ^ Bloomberg / 2021-09-23https://www.bloomberg.com/press-releases/2021-09-23/recipients-of-the-novo-nordisk-prize-played-major-role-in-the-research-and-development-of-the-covid-19-mrna-vaccine
  52. ^ "Announcement of the Prince Mahidol Award 2021". Prince Mahidol Award Foundation. 15 November 2021.
  53. ^ "2021 Pricess of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research". Fundacion Princesa de Asturias. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  54. ^ "Sir Suma Chakrabarti and Katalin Karikó winners of Emerging Europe's Remarkable Achievement Awards for 2021". Emerging Europe. 10 August 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  55. ^ "Katalin Karikó – Hohe Schweizer Auszeichnung für Erfinderin des mRNA-Impfstoffs". 20 Minuten (in German). 17 June 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  56. ^ "Building the Foundation Through mRNA Research". Research!America. 9 July 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  57. ^ "Karikó Katalin megkapta a legrangosabb magyar orvosi díjat" [Katalin Karikó received the most prestigious Hungarian medical award]. hvg.hu (in Hungarian). 25 May 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  58. ^ "Straub-plakettel tüntette ki egykori munkahelye Karikó Katalint". szeged.hu (in Hungarian). 19 May 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  59. ^ Balogh, Krisztina (15 March 2021). "Karikó Katalin és Merkely Béla is Széchenyi-díjat kapott" [Katalin Karikó and Béla Merkely also received the Széchenyi Prize]. index.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  60. ^ "The Woman Behind the Vaccine Breakthrough". www.uni-wuerzburg.de. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  61. ^ "Katalin Kariko: The 100 Most Influential People of 2021". Time. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  62. ^ "Vaccine Scientists Are TIME's 2021 Heroes of the Year". Time. Retrieved 14 December 2021.
  63. ^ "Auszeichnung: Biontech-Forschungsleiterin Katalin Karikó erhält Exner-Medaille" [Award: Biontech Director of Research Katalin Karikó receives Exner-Medal]. Wiener Zeitung (in German). 18 March 2021. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  64. ^ "Wilhelm Exner Medaillen 2021 an Katalin Karikó und Luisa Torsi". OTS.at (in German). 18 March 2021. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  65. ^ "Aktuelles". Wilhelm Exner Medaillen Stiftung (in Austrian German). Retrieved 4 October 2021.
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  67. ^ "WGSBN Bulletin" (PDF). Working Group Small Body Nomenclature. 29 November 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  68. ^ "Katalin Karikó was awarded at the University of Debrecen". The Debrecen Sun. 17 December 2021. Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  69. ^ BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards 2021
  70. ^ "Press Release". Breakthrough Prize Foundation. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  71. ^ Deutscher Immunologie-Preis 2021
  72. ^ "L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science recognize five women researchers for pioneering work in environmental and life sciences". unesco.org. 30 September 2021. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  73. ^ Wedia. "BioNTech scientists honoured with prestigious German medical prize". IamExpat. Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  74. ^ "Dr. Katalin Karikó receives 2022 Vilcek Prize for Excellence for pioneering vaccine research". Vilcek Foundation. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  75. ^ "VinFuture vinh danh 3 nhà khoa học nghiên cứu vaccine mRNA". VNExpress (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  76. ^ Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal 2022
  77. ^ Japan Prize 2022
  78. ^ "Katalin Karikó named the 2022 recipient of the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize".
  79. ^ Canada Gairdner International Award 2022
  80. ^ Tang Prize 2022
  81. ^ [1]
  82. ^ Krisztina, Balogh (25 February 2021). "Nagymama lett Karikó Katalin". index.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  83. ^ "Csodaszép Karikó Katalin unokája" [Katalin Karikó's beautiful grandson]. szeged.hu (in Hungarian). 1 March 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  84. ^ Barbaro, Michael (10 June 2021). "The Unlikely Pioneer Behind mRNA Vaccines". The Daily (Podcast). The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 18 June 2021.

External links