Katalin Kariko Wiki – Katalin Kariko Biography

Katalin Kariko is a Hungarian biochemist from Szolnok, Hungary. She was born on 17 January 1955. She specializes in RNA-mediated mechanisms. Her research has been the development of vitro-transcribed mRNA for protein therapies. She is a senior vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals.


She is 65 years old as of 2020.

Earlier Life, Career

Karikó grew up in a Christian family, in the Hungarian town of Kisújszállás where she attended Móricz Zsigmond Református Gimnázium. After earning her Ph.D., Karikó continued her research and postdoctoral studies at the Institute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Centre, the Temple University Department of Biochemistry, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science.

While serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia, Karikó participated in a clinical trial in which patients with AIDS, hematological diseases, and chronic fatigue 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, but the antineoplastic effects of interferon were well documented.

In 1990, while a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Karikó submitted her first grant application in which she proposed to establish mRNA-based gene therapy,[7] Ever since, mRNA-based therapy has been Karikó’s primary research interest. Karikó was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School for nearly 25 years.

In 2012, Karikó and Drew Weissman, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, received a patent for the use of several modified nucleosides to reduce the antiviral immune response to mRNA and they founded a small company.

Soon after, 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 that was and still is backing Moderna, contacted her to license the patent. All Karikó said was “we don’t have it.” In early 2013, Karikó heard of Moderna’s $240 million deal with AstraZeneca to develop a VEGF mRNA. Karikó realized she would not get a chance to apply her experience with mRNA at the University of Pennsylvania, so took a role as Senior Vice President at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals.

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

COVID-19 Vaccines

Karikó began working with RNA as a student in Hungary. When funding for her job there ran out, Kariko immigrated to Philadelphia in 1985. Over the years, she’s been rejected for grant after grant, threatened with deportation and demoted from her faculty job by a university that saw her research as a dead end. Through it all, Karikó just kept working.

If new COVID-19 vaccines help life in the U.S. get back to normal next year, the nation will have many immigrants like Karikó to thank. Scientists and investors born outside of the U.S. played crucial roles in the development of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. It’s a remarkable vindication for the argument — often made by the biotech industry — that innovation depends on the free movement of people and ideas.

Now Karikó is a senior vice president at BionNTech, the company that partnered with Pfizer to make the first COVID-19 vaccine to get emergency authorization in the U.S. BioNTech is a company based in Germany and led by immigrants from Turkey.

Immigrants are playing key roles in nearly every aspect of the vaccine effort in the U.S. Even the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution program, is an immigrant — Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines department.

Scientific contributions

The work and research of Karikó have contributed to BioNTech’s effort to create immune cells that produce vaccine antigens — Karikó’s research revealed that the antiviral response from mRNA gave their cancer vaccines an extra boost in defense against tumors. In 2020 this technology was used within a vaccine for COVID-19 that was produced jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech.


US8278036B2 & US8748089B2 — 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.


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