In Council News, Jamie Gauthier, News by Jamie Gauthier

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PHILADELPHIA – During today’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) presented Katalin Karikó Ph.D. and Drew Weissman MD Ph.D. with a resolution congratulating them on winning the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine. In a watershed moment for Philadelphia’s booming life sciences industry, Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman developed the technology behind COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Council enacted Resolution #240163 on March 7th, 2024.

“Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman’s transformative mRNA technology shows how Philadelphia’s life sciences industry impacts the entire world,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “Their work saved countless lives right here in Philadelphia and across the globe. On behalf of our entire city, City Council congratulates Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman on winning science’s highest honor!”

Dr. Katalin Karikó is a former senior vice president at BioNTech and an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Drew Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. They are the 28th and 29th Nobel laureates with ties to the University of Pennsylvania, including nine who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

“Philadelphia is not only a historic city but one that has always brought together so many passionate, unique, and inventive people,” said Dr. Drew Weissman. “I’m thankful for this city that is investing in the future of medicine and science, that has given me friends and collaborators like Kati, and that has become a home for my family and I. mRNA research and therapeutics have a bright future in Philly.”

After a chance meeting in the late 1990s, while photocopying research papers, Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman began investigating mRNA as a potential therapeutic. In 2005, they published a key discovery: mRNA could be altered and delivered effectively into the body to activate its protective immune system.

“Like so many Americans, I came to this country as an immigrant with goals, hope, and determination,” said Dr. Katalin Karikó. “It’s extra special to be acknowledged by Philadelphia which symbolizes the U.S. and an American spirit that I have always tried to live by. And I am excited to see how all the young scientists, especially here in Philadelphia, continue to advance medical research.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the true value of the pair’s lab work was revealed in the timeliest of ways, as companies worked to quickly develop and deploy vaccines to protect people from the virus. BothPfizer/BioNTech and Moderna utilized Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman’s technology to build highly effective vaccines that protected recipients from severe illness and death due to COVID-19.

“Philadelphia has Drs. Kariko and Weissman to thank both for lifting us out of the pandemic and also for showing that scientific discoveries made here in Philly have the power to change the world,” said Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, Interim Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Their achievements can make us all proud – and excited for our city’s future.”

In the United States alone, more than 655 million total doses of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines have been administered since they became available in December 2020. Not only did Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman’s groundbreaking research save countless lives, but it also showed the entire world the prowess and impact of Philadelphia’s growing life sciences industry.

“Through out the pandemic, we were all awestruck by the extraordinary efforts of those working in our hospitals and clinics who, every day, worked together to keep our communities safe,” said Kevin B. Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Drew and Kati’s accomplishments – cemented so many years earlier – remind us that every day, our physicians, scientists, and staff are also laying the groundwork that will help us meet the moment for any challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.”

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