Penn Medicine COVID-19 Vaccine Pioneers Win 2021 Lasker Award


September 24, 2021

Dear Penn Medicine Colleagues,

It has been called one of the greatest scientific achievements in history: the rapid development of the highly effective mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that have been the world’s brightest hope in bringing an end to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we’re thrilled to celebrate the Penn Medicine scientists behind the breakthrough.

 Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research, and Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, have been honored with the 2021 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, which is widely regarded as America’s top biomedical research prize.

 As many of you know, the swift creation and deployment of the vaccines is rooted in their groundbreaking basic science study published in 2005. Together, they showed that mRNA could be altered and then delivered effectively into the body to initiate a protective immune response. The approach turns cells into factories that can temporarily produce proteins that serve as therapeutic compounds or stimulate the body’s immune system to attack a specific pathogen. Their discovery science effort, which unspooled over many years through intense curiosity and provocative questions, set the stage that ensured the world was ready to meet the moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. We invite you to hear more from Drs. Weissman and Karikó about their journey.

 The Lasker Award is a testament to their perseverance, collaboration and innovation – qualities which have brought gifts and hope to us all. Even as our health system, nation, and world continue battling the virus, the vaccines have offered immense relief and allowed us to return more safely to work, gather with friends and family, and helped our children to again attend school and play sports.

Today’s tremendous recognition follows a series of the world’s most prestigious prizes for Dr. Weissman and Karikó’s discovery science efforts, including the Breakthrough Prize and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.

 From within the challenges and losses sown by the COVID-19 pandemic, Drew and Kati’s work have helped us to envision a brighter future for so many fields of medicine. Through their example, Penn Medicine has become a global hub for mRNA research by investigators across an array of disciplines, who are working to harness the immune system in completely new ways to fight infectious, incurable, and genetic diseases from malaria and herpes to sickle-cell anemia and cancer.

 Please join me in congratulating Drs. Weissman and Karikó and celebrating their visionary, lifesaving work.

With pride and gratitude,

&quote;Larry&quote; Signature
J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD