Ross Prize awarded to mRNA technology, COVID-19 vaccine innovators

University of Pennsylvania scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman to be honored at June 7 symposium in New York City for their research that enabled COVID-19 vaccines

Drs. Drew Weissman (left) and Katalin Karikó (right) are the 2022 Ross Prize awardees. (Credit: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania)

MANHASSET, N.Y.--()--The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research has selected two scientists from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Katalin Karikó, PhD, and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, as awardees of the ninth annual Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine for their tireless research in messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and contributions to developing mRNA-based vaccines to prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The Ross Prize is awarded annually through the Feinstein Institutes' peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Molecular Medicine. Two awardees were selected after the pandemic-related cancelation of the 2021 prize. The Prize includes a $50,000 award for each recipient and will be presented on June 7 with the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) at Cure on 345 Park Avenue South in Manhattan. It will take place as part of a half-day research symposium. To register for the event, click here.

“Development of the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 brought to light the decades-long scientific process and power of medical research,” said Dr. Karikó, adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech. “Through the support of the Ross Prize I am eager to continue our mRNA research to advance the technology even further.”

The duo is heralded for inventing the mRNA technology used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection. For more than two decades, Drs. Karikó and Weissman studied mRNA to understand how to harness gene information and create new, more effective vaccines. Tapping mRNA technology has unlocked genes to create a blueprint for making proteins that help the body to function. The pandemic has illuminated its vast potential for an array of medical breakthroughs.

In the United States, two of the three vaccines approved are mRNA based. Drs. Karikó and Weissman’s early mRNA discoveries have laid the foundation for swift vaccine development – Pfizer-BioNTech designed its coronavirus vaccine in a matter of hours with Moderna quickly to follow. More than a billion COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been administered to date worldwide.

“It has been a privilege to work alongside Dr. Karikó, with a culminating honor to see our years of research improve global health,” said Dr. Weissman, the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research in Penn's Perelman School of Medicine. “We hope to continue our work and inspire others to propel medical research forward and develop needed vaccines and therapies.”

After a brief award presentation, Drs. Karikó and Weissman will discuss their research in a symposium during which Florian Krammer, PhD and Peter Palese, PhD, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Laura Landweber, PhD, from Columbia University Medical Center, will discuss their research in infectious disease, the future of mRNA technology and genomics.

“Drs. Karikó and Weissman's pursuit of mRNA technology revolutionized our development of vaccines and saved many lives from COVID-19. It is also fitting that we are celebrating in-person the two scientists whose research enabled our ability to get back together again,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes and editor emeritus of Molecular Medicine. “Their tireless research of mRNA allowed us to act quickly amidst a global pandemic and will be built upon for future vaccines in generations to come.”

Past recipients of the Ross Prize are: Adrian R. Krainer, PhD, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor; Daniel Kastner, MD, PhD, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) scientific director; Huda Y. Zoghbi, MD, professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine; Jeffrey V. Ravetch, MD, PhD, the Theresa and Eugene M. Lang Professor and head of the Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology at The Rockefeller University; Charles N. Serhan, PhD, DSc, director of the Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Simon Gelman Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School and professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine; Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital; John J. O'Shea, MD, scientific director at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS); and Dan R. Littman, MD, PhD, the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology in the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

To learn more about the Ross Prize celebration and symposium and to register for the event, please visit: If you would like to nominate a candidate for the 2023 Ross Prize, please make a submission here.

About the Feinstein Institutes

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the home of the research institutes of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider and private employer in New York State. Encompassing 50 research labs, 3,000 clinical research studies and 5,000 researchers and staff, the Feinstein Institutes raises the standard of medical innovation through its five institutes of behavioral science, bioelectronic medicine, cancer, health system science, and molecular medicine. We make breakthroughs in genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and are the global scientific leader in bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we produce knowledge to cure disease, visit and follow us on LinkedIn.

About Molecular Medicine

Molecular Medicine sits at the forefront of its field, rapidly disseminating discovery in the genetic, molecular, and cellular basis of physiology and disease across a broad range of specialties. With over two decades of experience publishing to a multidisciplinary audience, and continually celebrating innovation through the ‘Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine’ and ‘Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine’, the journal strives towards the design of better molecular tools for disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Molecular Medicine is published by BMC, part of Springer/Nature, in partnership with The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.

About the New York Academy of Sciences

The New York of Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science for the benefit of society. With more than 20,000 Members in 100 countries, the Academy advances scientific and technical knowledge, addresses global challenges with science-based solutions, and sponsors a wide variety of educational initiatives at all levels for STEM and STEM related fields. The Academy hosts programs and publishes content in the life and physical sciences, the social sciences, nutrition, artificial intelligence, computer science, and sustainability. The Academy also provides professional and educational resources for researchers across all phases of their careers. Please visit us online at


Matthew Libassi


Matthew Libassi