Rosenstiel Award Goes to Researchers Who Pioneered COVID Vaccine

Head shot of a man wearing a lab coat.
Drew Weissman ’81, MA’81, P’15

In February, Brandeis’ Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research was awarded to Drew Weissman ’81, MA’81, P’15, and his longtime collaborator, Katalin Karikó. The award recognizes the pair’s pioneering messenger RNA research, which underlies both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines now being given to tens of millions of people internationally.

Over two decades at the University of Pennsylvania, Weissman and Karikó researched how mRNA, a component of the protein-production process inside cells, could be used to create vaccines.

The COVID vaccines were developed in less than a year — record time — and have an unprecedented 95% efficacy rate.

“We speak on behalf of humanity and millions of people thanking you for your incredible scientific discovery,” noted President Ron Liebowitz in closing remarks at the award ceremony, conducted via Zoom and attended by 1,500 people around the globe.

The event featured two other major players in the development of COVID-19 vaccines: Derrick Rossi, who co-founded Moderna in 2010, and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Forecasting the ultimate value of basic research can be difficult,” Fauci said. “However, fundamental advances in basic research can underpin extraordinary progress in real-world medicine.”

Thirty-six of the 93 Rosenstiel Award winners have subsequently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, or the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.