The University of Pennsylvania's Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, whose work on mRNA enabled the development of mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, have won the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, LiveScience reports.
As LiveScience notes, Karikó and Weissman uncovered a way to modify synthetic mRNA so that it wouldn't alert the immune system, enabling it to enter cells and undergo replication before breaking down. This approach, the Guardian adds, was then used by Moderna and BioNTech, where Karikó is also senior vice president.
Also winning the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences are Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman, both of the University of Cambridge, and Pascal Mayer from Alphanosos for their work developing next-generation sequencing, the Guardian reports. It adds that their work increased the speed and lowered the cost of DNA sequencing.
"It's had a massive impact and much more than we imagined when we were brainstorming this," Klenerman tells the Guardian. "We didn't expect it to become such a dominant technology."
The Breakthrough Prizes were established about a decade ago, with the goal of making " science as glitzy as rock 'n' roll," as the New York Times wrote in 2014. The winners of the Breakthrough, New Horizons, and New Frontiers prizes receive $15.75 million in total, though the award event has been postponed until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.