Drew Weissman is a prominent immunologist and a Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. His valuable work on RNA and its applications in vaccine development and gene therapy earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Weissman, the son of a Jewish father and an Italian mother, was born in Lexington, Massachusetts. He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Brandeis University, specializing in biochemistry and enzymology, while working in Gerald Fasman’s laboratory.
He later continued his academic journey by conducting research in immunology and microbiology, earning his medical degree from Boston University. Subsequently, he completed a residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, followed by a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he investigated dendritic cells, a key biological player in initiating the body’s immune response.
In 1997, he relocated his lab to the University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on RNA research and the biology of the innate immune system, eventually becoming the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research.
During his tenure at the university, Weissman, a specialist in immunology and vaccines, had a crucial encounter with his future colleague and collaborator, Katalin Karikó, with whom he shares the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Both shared concerns about the lack of funding for RNA research. At that time, Karikó was evaluating RNA therapy for brain diseases and strokes.
This collaboration led to Weissman and Karikó redirecting their focus toward the application of RNA technology in the field of vaccines. One of the main challenges they faced was generating unwanted immune and inflammatory reactions as adverse responses.
Years after publishing a groundbreaking study using synthetic nucleosides to prevent degradation by the body, in 2020, their RNA technology, a vital molecule for life, became a crucial component of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines were globally implemented to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and save millions of lives.
The jury awarded these researchers for “fundamentally changing our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system. The awardees contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”
The Nobel Prize in Medicine has been one of Weissman’s most significant honors and recognitions, alongside the Rosenstiel Prize, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Albany Medical Center Prize, the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award, the Princess of Asturias Award in the “Scientific Research” category, and the Robert Koch Prize.
His valuable contributions to research and medicine also led to his selection as a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2022.
List of Nobel Laureates
Literature: Jon Fosse
Peace: Narges Mohammadi
Physics: Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L´Huillier
Chemistry: Alexey Ekimov, Luis E. Brus, and Moungi Bawendi
Medicine: Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó
Economics: Claudia Goldin