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She was Demoted, Doubted and Rejected But Now Her Work is the Basis of the Covid-19 Vaccine


The foundation of the COVID-19 vaccine, and many others, can be traced to the work of an intrepid immigrant to the United States from Hungary, whose never-dying attitude and faith in her work led to one of the most important technological developments in vaccine research.

Katalin Karikó

Now there is talk of Katalin Karikó for a Nobel Prize, but life was not always so rewarding for her, and the story about how she practically invented mRNA and RNA-derived therapies and vaccines, the basis of so many life-saving treatments, is filled with challenges.

When Karikó left her native Hungary with her husband and young son, she only had $ 1,200 in her daughter’s teddy bear. Now, after years of her work developing mRNA and RNA technologies, she is the senior vice president of German pharmaceutical giant BioNTech, and her work has received more than 12,000 academic citations.

After graduating with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Szeged, then embarked on a research career at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

However, after being fired, Karikó moved to the United States after receiving an invitation from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1985. She would eventually transfer to the University of Pennsylvania, which would end up being an extremely difficult period.

At the time, messenger RNA research was extremely popular, but shortly after its arrival, the method of using the genetic material of a virus to command the human body to duplicate certain proteins to fight the virus was deemed too radical and too risky. financially to finance.

Failed grant applications started piling up on Karikó’s desk, but he didn’t stop.

Ten years after her arrival in Philadelphia, she was demoted from her position at UPenn and later diagnosed with cancer.

“Usually at that point, people say goodbye and leave because it’s so horrible.” told Stat, a health news site, in November. “I thought about going somewhere else or doing something else. I also thought that maybe I’m not good enough, not smart enough. “

Along with another immunologist named Drew Weissman, the couple finally received patents for his mRNA technology in 2012, but after receiving even more problems from UPenn, Karikó took a job at BioNTech, a German company founded, perhaps appropriately, also by immigrants.

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Is it a coincidence that the first and most widespread COVID-19 vaccine was produced by this company? In reality, it was Karikó and Weissman, repeatedly underestimated or rejected by Pennsylvania academics, who associated their mRNA gene therapy method with Pfizer’s expertise, to create the vaccine that has already protected millions of people.

The couple is being talked about for a Nobel Prize, including by the famous British intellectual Richard Dawkins and Modern CEO Derek Rossi.

This year they already won the Rosenstiel Award for distinguished work in basic medicine.

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“Through their painstaking research on mRNA and its persistence despite setbacks, Weissman and Karikó laid the groundwork for vaccines that will save countless lives.” said Director of the Rosenstiel Center for Research in Basic Medical Sciences.

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In an interview with CNNKarikó, with blue eyes like the ice of a glacier, explained that the moment of the awards and celebrations will come at another time, when the pandemic that she will be the main responsible for ending, in fact ends.

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