KEIO UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCIENCE FUND


The 2021 Keio Medical Science Prize Awardees

Katalin Karikó, Ph.D.

Katalin Karikó, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President, BioNTech SE
Adjunct Professor, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Reason for Selection and her Major Achievement:

“Discovery of Specific RNA Modification Leading to mRNA Vaccine Development”

Messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules convey genetic information from DNA to the ribosome, where they specify the amino acid sequence of the protein products of gene expression. In 1989, Katalin Karikó, Ph.D. started working on mRNA with the conviction that mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines. However, as it turned out, human immune cells exposed to synthesized mRNA generated a strong immune response accompanied by secretion of inflammatory molecules. After many years of trial and error, Dr. Karikó found that the incorporation of a modified nucleoside, known as pseudouridine, into the mRNA ablated the immune response. In addition, the modification directed the cellular synthesis of quantities of protein that were several times larger than those produced by the conventional, unmodified mRNA. These findings of Dr. Karikó regarding modified mRNA went on to pave the way to the stunningly successful COVID-19 vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies. Now that mRNA vaccine technology has been proven, it is expected to transform other vaccines and therapeutic strategies to tackle not only infectious diseases such as HIV, influenza, and malaria, but also cancer and heart failure. Therefore, her achievement is undoubtedly worthy of the Keio Medical Science Prize.

Background

Education

1982
     
PhD   University of Szeged, Szeged, Hungary (Biochemistry)
1978
     
BS   University of Szeged, Szeged, Hungary (Biology)

Position

2021-present
 
Adjunct Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania
2019-present
 
Senior Vice President, BioNTech SE
2013-2019
  
Vice President, BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals
2009-2021
  
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania
1995-2009
  
Senior Research Investigator, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania
1989-1995
  
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1988-1989
  
Department of Pathology, USUHS, Bethesda, MD, USA
1985-1988
  
Department of Biochemistry, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, US
1982-1985
  
Biological Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Szeged, Hungary

Major Honors/Awards

2021
    
Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Medical Science – Brandeis University, USA
2021
   
Reichstein Medal – Swiss Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences
2021
    
Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Biotechnology – The Vilcek Foundation, NYC, USA
2021
    
Princess Asturias Award – Princess Asturias Foundation, Spain
2021
    
Semmelweis Award - Hungarian Government
2021
Horwitz Prize – Columbia University, USA

Comments

I’m humbled and honored to receive the Keio Medical Science Prize in recognition of my contribution to identifying the specific RNA modification that helped develop the mRNA vaccines in the fight against COVID-19. As a result of the modification, mRNA therapies can be safely delivered to patients to make more effective vaccines against other infectious diseases or used for protein replacement therapies and gene editing to treat conditions with unmet medical needs.

Nureki Osamu, Ph.D.

Nureki Osamu, Ph.D.

Professor,
Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo

Reason for Selection and his Major Achievement:

“Structural Biology of Key Molecules in Life”

Structural biology is an important area of molecular biology and biochemistry concerned with the molecular structure of macromolecules, especially proteins and nucleotides. Osamu Nureki, Ph.D. as a pioneer in the field of structural biology, has determined the three-dimensional structures of key molecules in life including those of RNA-protein complexes such as tRNA modification enzymes, G protein-coupled receptors and membrane transporters. His achievement has proved that structural biology is not just a method of learning about the structures of molecules, but also a strong means of investigating their biological functions and identifying unknown life phenomena. Recently, he determined the structure of CRISPR-Cas9 for the first time, paving the way to “genome editing-based drug discovery”. Fundamental knowledge originating from his research is now the basis underlying recent advances in biology and medical science. Taking all these above-mentioned facts into consideration, Dr. Nureki deserves to win the Keio Medical Science Prize.

Background

Education

1993
Graduated from Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo (Doctor of Science)
1988-93
Master and PhD student of Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
1984-88
Undergraduate of Faculty of Science, The University of Tokyo

Positions

2014
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
2010
Professor, Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
2008
Professor, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo
2003
Professor, Department of Biological Information, Graduate School of Biosciences and Biotechnology, Tokyo Institute of Technology
2002
Associate Professor at Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
1995
Assistant Professor, Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
1994
Special Researcher at Crystallography Laboratory, RIKEN
1993
Postdoctoral Fellow, Protein Engineering Research Institute (PERI)

Major Honors/Awards

2018
   
Medal with Purple Ribbon from Japanese Government
2014
   
Takeda Medical Prize of Takeda Science Foundation
2014
   
Uehara Prize of Uehara Memorial Foundation
2011
   
Research Award of The Crystallographic Society of Japan
2011
   
Inoue Prize for Science, Inoue Foundation for Science
2008
   
JSPS Prize, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

Comments

I was born at Keio University Hospital. During my childhood, I was interested in becoming a doctor and devoured Hideyo Noguchi biographies and Osamu Tezuka’s medical comic Black Jack. In high school, I struggled with finding my purpose and concluded that a life helping others would be a life worth living. I could have studied at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, but I was afraid of diseases and joined the School of Science, believing that I could contribute to medicine through basic research. As a Ph.D. student, I realized that remodeling and controlling proteins as machines made of atoms would allow us to significantly improve medical science. Currently, my laboratory is focused on the structural biology of non-coding RNA and membrane proteins, which are the building blocks of life and higher eukaryotes, and I am creating drugs and medical technologies with two venture companies. This Keio Medical Science Prize is a significant motivator for me to further my research and technological development.

Past Prize Laureates