Unsung Science

How We Almost Blew the Vaccine

Oct. 22, 2021

It may seem as though we got the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines incredibly quickly. But Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó had been trying to make mRNA vaccines work for 30 years while fighting scientific gatekeepers who thought her idea was absurd. Her grants were denied, her papers rejected, her speaking invitations withdrawn; eventually, the University of Pennsylvania demoted her. But she still refused to quit, and in 2005, she and collaborator Drew Weissman cracked the code. They figured out how mRNA could direct our own cells to manufacture medicines to order. Their breakthrough saved the world from the worst of the pandemic—and opened a new world of medicines and vaccines for a huge range of diseases.

Guests: Katalin Karikó, senior VP at BioNTech. Drew Weissman, Perelman School of Medicine, U Penn. Derek Rossi, co-founder of Moderna.

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