Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó (Hungarian: Karikó Katalin, Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈkɒrikoː ˌkɒtɒlin]; born 17 January 1955) is a Hungarian biochemist who specializes in RNA-mediated mechanisms. Her research has been the development of in vitro-transcribed mRNA for protein therapies. She co-founded and was CEO of RNARx from 2006 to 2013.[1] Since 2013, she has been a vice president and promoted to senior vice president in 2019 at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals.[2] She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

Katalin Karikó
Katalin Kariko light corrected.jpeg
Karikó (2020)
Born (1955-01-17) 17 January 1955 (age 66)
Szolnok, Hungary
EducationUniversity of Szeged
Known formRNA technology in immunology and therapies
Spouse(s)Béla Francia
ChildrenSusan Francia
AwardsSzéchenyi-díj (2021)
Wilhelm Exner Medaillen (2021)
Scientific career
Fieldsbiochemistry; RNA technologies
InstitutionsUniversity of Szeged
Temple University
University of Pennsylvania

Karikó's work includes scientific research of RNA-mediated immune activation resulting in the co-discovery with American immunologist Drew Weissman of the nucleoside modifications that suppress the immunogenicity of RNA.[3][4][5] This is seen as permitting the therapeutic use of mRNA.[6] Together with Weissman, she holds U.S. patents for application of non-immunogenic, nucleoside-modified RNA. This technology has been licensed by BioNTech and Moderna to develop their COVID-19 vaccines.[7]

Early life and educationEdit

Karikó grew up in Kisújszállás, Hungary, where she attended Móricz Zsigmond Református Gimnázium. Her father was a butcher.[8]

After earning her Ph.D. at the University of Szeged, Karikó continued her research and postdoctoral studies at the Institute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Centre of Hungary, the Temple University Department of Biochemistry, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science. While serving as postdoctoral fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia, Karikó participated in a clinical trial in which patients with AIDS, hematological diseases, and chronic fatigue were treated with double stranded RNA (dsRNA). At the time, this was considered groundbreaking research as the molecular mechanism of interferon induction by dsRNA was not known, but the antineoplastic effects of interferon were well documented.[9]


In 1990, while a [Research Assistant] professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Karikó submitted her first grant application in which she proposed to establish mRNA-based gene therapy.[2] Ever since, mRNA-based therapy has been Karikó’s primary research interest. She was on track to become full professor, but grant rejections led to her being demoted by the university in 1995.[7] She stayed on and in 1997 met Drew Weissman, professor of immunology at the University of Pennsylvania.[10] Her persistence was noted as exceptional against the norms of academic research work conditions.[11]

In a series of articles beginning in 2005, Karikó and Weissman described how specific nucleoside modifications in mRNA led to a reduced immune response.[10][3] They founded a small company and in 2006 and 2013 received patents for the use of several modified nucleosides to reduce the antiviral immune response to mRNA. Soon after, the university sold the intellectual property license to Gary Dahl, the head of a lab supply company that eventually became Cellscript. Weeks later, Flagship Pioneering, the venture capital company backing Moderna, contacted her to license the patent. All Karikó said was “we don’t have it.” In early 2013, Karikó heard of Moderna’s $240 million deal with AstraZeneca to develop a VEGF mRNA. Karikó realized she would not get a chance to apply her experience with mRNA at the University of Pennsylvania, so took a role as vice president (and became Senior VP in 2019) at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals.[2]

Her research and specializations include messenger RNA-based gene therapy, RNA-induced immune reactions, molecular bases of ischemic tolerance, and treatment of brain ischemia.

Scientific contributionsEdit

The work and research of Karikó has contributed to BioNTech’s effort to create immune cells that produce vaccine antigens — her research revealed that the antiviral response from mRNA gave their cancer vaccines an extra boost in defense against tumors.[2] In 2020, Karikó's and Weissman's technology was used within a vaccine for COVID-19 that was produced jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech.[6][10] The British ethologist Richard Dawkins, as well as the Canadian stem cell biologist Derrick Rossi, who helped found Moderna, have called for these two to receive a Nobel Prize.[12][13][14]


US8278036B2[15] & US8748089B2[16] — This invention provides RNA, oligoribonucleotide, and polyribonucleotide molecules comprising pseudouridine or a modified nucleoside, gene therapy vectors comprising same, methods of synthesizing same, and methods for gene replacement, gene therapy, gene transcription silencing, and the delivery of therapeutic proteins to tissue in vivo, comprising the molecules. The present invention also provides methods of reducing the immunogenicity of RNA, oligoribonucleotide, and polyribonucleotide molecules.[15][16]

Awards and honorsEdit

Selected publicationsEdit

Personal lifeEdit

Karikó is married to Béla Francia and is the mother of two-time Olympic gold medalist Susan Francia.[6][12] Her grandson, Alexander Bear Amos, was born in the U.S. in February 2021, and at the time of his birth, Karikó was able to be there in person with her daughter and son-in-law, architect Ryan Amos.[26][27]


The New York Times featured her career that laid the groundwork for mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 pandemic.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Katalin Karikó". 8th International mRNA Health Conference. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Keener AB (September 2018). "Just the messenger". Nature Medicine. 24 (9): 1297–1300. doi:10.1038/s41591-018-0183-7. PMID 30139958. S2CID 52074565.
  3. ^ a b Karikó, Katalin; Buckstein, MIchael; Ni, Houping; Weissman, Drew (1 August 2005). "Suppression of RNA Recognition by Toll-like Receptors: The Impact of Nucleoside Modification and the Evolutionary Origin of RNA". Immunity. 23 (2): 165–175. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2005.06.008. PMID 16111635.
  4. ^ Anderson BR, Muramatsu H, Nallagatla SR, Bevilacqua PC, Sansing LH, Weissman D, Karikó K (September 2010). "Incorporation of pseudouridine into mRNA enhances translation by diminishing PKR activation". Nucleic Acids Research. 38 (17): 5884–92. doi:10.1093/nar/gkq347. PMC 2943593. PMID 20457754.
  5. ^ Karikó K, Muramatsu H, Welsh FA, Ludwig J, Kato H, Akira S, Weissman D (November 2008). "Incorporation of pseudouridine into mRNA yields superior nonimmunogenic vector with increased translational capacity and biological stability". Molecular Therapy. 16 (11): 1833–40. doi:10.1038/mt.2008.200. PMC 2775451. PMID 18797453.
  6. ^ a b c Kollewe, Julia (21 November 2020). "Covid vaccine technology pioneer: 'I never doubted it would work'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b Garde, Damian; Saltzman, Jonathan (10 November 2020). "The story of mRNA: From a loose idea to a tool that may help curb Covid". STAT. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  8. ^ a b Kolata, Gina (8 April 2021). "Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  9. ^ Schwarz-Romond, Thomas (7 November 2016). "Transforming RNA research into future treatments: Q&A with 2 biotech leaders". Elsevier Connect. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Cox, David (2 December 2020). "How mRNA went from a scientific backwater to a pandemic crusher". Wired. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  11. ^ Scales, David (12 February 2021). "How Our Brutal Science System Almost Cost Us A Pioneer Of mRNA Vaccines". WBUR-FM. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman. A shared Nobel-prize for mRNA?". Hungarian Free Press. 19 December 2020. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  13. ^ Rosza, Matthew (25 January 2021). "The hero biochemist who pioneered COVID vaccine tech was professionally spurned for years prior". Salon. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  14. ^ Corbly, Andy (1 February 2021). "She was Demoted, Doubted and Rejected But Now Her Work is the Basis of the Covid-19 Vaccine". Good News Network. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  15. ^ a b US 8278036, Kariko K, Weissman D, "RNA containing modified nucleosides and methods of use thereof", issued 21 August 2006, assigned to University of Pennsylvania 
  16. ^ a b US 8748089, Kariko K, Weissman D, "RNA containing modified nucleosides and methods of use thereof", issued 15 March 2013, assigned to University of Pennsylvania 
  17. ^ "Karikó Katalin biokémikus kapta az első Közmédia Év Embere Díjat" [Biochemist Katalin Karikó received the first Public Media Man of the Year Award]. Duna Médiaszolgáltató (in Hungarian). 5 January 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  18. ^ "Karikó Katalin lett Csongrád-Csanád megye díszpolgára" [Katalin Karikó became an honorary citizen of Csongrád-Csanád county]. promenad.hu (in Hungarian). 12 March 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  19. ^ "BioNTech's Karikó to Receive Honorary Citizenship of Szeged". hungarytoday.hu. 20 January 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research". Brandeis University. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  21. ^ "BioNTech's Karikó to be awarded honorary doctorate by University of Szeged". dailynewshungary.com. 27 January 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  22. ^ "Rangos elismerést kap Magyarországon Karikó Katalin" [Katalin Karikó receives prestigious recognition in Hungary]. Magyar Nemzet (in Hungarian). 12 February 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  23. ^ Balogh, Krisztina (15 March 2021). "Karikó Katalin és Merkely Béla is Széchenyi-díjat kapott" [Katalin Karikó and Béla Merkely also received the Széchenyi Prize]. index.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Auszeichnung: Biontech-Forschungsleiterin Katalin Karikó erhält Exner-Medaille" [Award: Biontech Director of Research Katalin Karikó receives Exner-Medal]. Wiener Zeitung (in German). 18 March 2021. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Wilhelm Exner Medaillen 2021 an Katalin Karikó und Luisa Torsi". OTS.at (in German). 18 March 2021. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  26. ^ Krisztina, Balogh (25 February 2021). "Nagymama lett Karikó Katalin". index.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  27. ^ Kft, Euro Bioinvest. "Csodaszép Karikó Katalin unokája" [Katalin Karikó's beautiful grandson]. szeged.hu (in Hungarian). Retrieved 8 March 2021.

External linksEdit