The Hungarian-born biochemist who helped pioneer the research behind the mRNA technology used in the two Covid-19 vaccines showing positive results believes it was always a no-brainer.
“I never doubted it would work,” Katalin Karikó told the Guardian. “I had seen the data from animal studies, and I was expecting it. I always wished that I would live long enough to see something that I’ve worked on be approved.”
This month has been the pinnacle of Karikó’s lifelong work researching mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid.
The 65-year-old, who left Hungary in 1985 to pursue an academic career in the US with her husband, toddler and just £900 hidden in a teddy bear, has now been suggested as a possible Nobel prize winner.
Her work helped pave the way for both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna coronavirus vaccines. Both have shown efficacy of about 95% in late-stage clinical trials. They are expected to receive emergency approval and to be given to the first patients in the coming weeks.
The key to both is mRNA, a single-stranded messenger molecule that delivers genetic instructions from DNA, coiled up inside the cell nucleus, to the cell’s protein-making factories outside the nucleus. In the case of the vaccines, the molecule instructs cells to start churning out the harmless spike protein as a warning to the immune system to mobilise against coronavirus.
The adaptability of mRNA has opened a new field of therapy, not just for vaccines but also for medicines in areas ranging from cancer to strokes and cystic fibrosis.…