Covid-19 vaccine scientists win prestigious prize

Two scientists who made important contributions to the development of Covid-19 vaccines have received a prestigious award from the University of Edinburgh.

A photograph of a row of covid-19 vaccine vials

Dr Katalin Karikó and Dr Drew Weissman’s work led to development of mRNA vaccines – the technology that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines are based upon.

In recognition of this important research and its impact, the researchers have been awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics.

The University awards the prize every two years to a person or persons who have made a highly important and valuable addition in the last five years to the field of practical therapeutic techniques for the treatment of illnesses.

Immune response

The majority of vaccines work by introducing an inactivated form of the pathogen or a protein from the pathogen into the body, but mRNA vaccines work differently.

mRNA vaccines use synthetic mRNA – a short strand of genetic material - to teach our cells how to make a protein, or a part of a protein, which in turn activates an immune response inside our bodies.

This immune response produces antibodies that helps protect us from getting sick from a specific pathogen in the future.

mRNA technology

The Covid-19 pandemic was the first time that mRNA vaccines were used in this way, but have been in development for many years.

Dr Karikó and Dr Weissman’s work over the last decade was key in ensuring that the lab-produced mRNA could enter the body without triggering its defences.

It has been estimated that Covid-19 vaccines saved 14.4 million lives between December 2020 and 2021.

Work is now underway to explore how mRNA technology could be used in flu and malaria vaccines and in the treatment of cancer.

The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the greatest challenges we have faced as a society in modern time and vaccines were key in overcoming this challenge. I am delighted that Dr Karikó and Dr Weissman have accepted this prize in recognition of their pivotal work and look forward to welcoming them to Edinburgh.

Professor David ArgyleHead of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh


Dr Katalin Karikó received her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Szeged in Hungary. For the last decade, she was senior vice president at BioNTech. Prior to that, for 24 years, she worked at University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently an adjunct professor.  

She has received numerous awards for her work on mRNA including the Tang Prize Award in Biopharmaceutical Science in 2022, awarded jointly with Dr. Weissman and was Time Magazine’s Hero of the Year 2021 with Dr. Weissman.

Dr Drew Weissman received his MD and PhD from Boston University.  He completed a residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, followed by a fellowship at the US National Institutes of Health, under the supervision of Dr Anthony Fauci.

He is currently the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also received many awards including the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award jointly with Dr Karikó.

I am deeply honoured to receive the very prestigious Cameron Prize. It is humbling to belong to the group of the most distinguished scientists, the prior laureates.

Dr Katalin Karikó

It is a tremendous honour to be recognized for the Cameron Prize and be included in the illustrious list of awardees.

Dr Drew Weissman

Cameron Prize history

The Cameron Prize was first awarded in 1879 and lists numerous Nobel and Lasker prize winners amongst its awardees.

Winners are invited to deliver a lecture about their work at the University of Edinburgh in September 2023.