The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was on Monday awarded to scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their research that led directly to the first mRNA vaccines to fight Covid-19.

Karikó, a Hungarian, is a professor at Sagan’s University in Hungary and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She was also a senior vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals until 2022. Weissman, from the United States, is a professor of vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Their contributions to RNA biology that enabled the development of mRNA vaccines have already won a slew of major medicine prizes.

Monday’s award winners were selected by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute medical university and will receive about Rs 8.3 crore.

“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the jury said.

While traditional vaccines use a modified or inactivated germ to prepare the body for a future attack from the real virus, mRNA deploys snippets of genetic material that carry instructions showing the body’s cells how to produce a protein – in this case, the spike protein on the coronavirus that causes the disease. The body’s immune system then triggers antibodies to fight off that spike protein so that cells can recognise and fight the real virus.

The jury on Monday added, “After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, two base-modified mRNA vaccines encoding the SARS-CoV-2 surface protein were developed at record speed. Protective effects of around 95% were reported, and both vaccines were approved as early as December 2020.”

This is the first Nobel Prize to be awarded this year. The other awards given in categories of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced between October 3 and October 9. The prizes will be handed out to the winners on December 10.

In 2022, the Nobel prize in medicine was awarded to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo for his discoveries about the evolution of the human race.