“Redemption! … I was grabbing the air, I got so excited I was afraid that I might die or something.”
Katalin Karikó laughs as she recounts her reaction to the news that the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which is based on research she pioneered and risked her career for, was 90 percent effective in protecting against Covid-19.
For the Hungarian-born scientist, the breakthrough goes beyond the hope that the new vaccine will help turn the tide of the pandemic. It is a validation of her career-long belief in the therapeutic potential of synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA), a technology that could open the door to a new generation of medical treatments and cures.
For more than four decades, Prof Karikó has relentlessly explored how the single-stranded molecules of genetic code could be used to treat conditions from strokes and cancer to influenza. Despite demotions, countless grant rejections, and, at points, deep skepticism from fellow scientists, she plowed on.