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Pioneer of Covid-19 vaccine, Dr Katalin Karikó, to be awarded UCC Honorary Doctorate

24 Apr 2023
  • Dr Katalin Karikó is a pioneer of Covid-19 vaccine development.
  • Dr Kariko’s research was the foundation for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, helping save lives and turn the tide on the pandemic.
  • World Immunisation Week occurs this week (24th- 28th April) and seeks to raise awareness of the protection provided by vaccines throughout life.

University College Cork (UCC) will award an Honorary Doctorate to Dr Katalin Karikó for her pioneering mRNA research, which led to the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against COVID-19.

Her work has been credited with turning the tide on the pandemic, with billions of people around the world now protected from the COVID-19 virus. Dr Karikó will be presented with her Honorary Doctorate during a special ceremony at UCC on Wednesday (26th April) during what is World Immunisation Week.

Dr Katalin Karikó has dedicated her career to achieving a dream that conventional scientific wisdom once deemed implausible. For three decades, her research has focused on the use of messenger RNA (mRNA) - the genetic code that carries DNA instructions to each cell. She was convinced mRNA could be used to make their own medicine. She surmounted challenge after challenge until she prevailed, crucially discovering how to overcome the potentially lethal inflammatory response caused by synthetic mRNA that had precluded its use in humans.

The UCC honour recognises Dr Kariko’s discovery of this revolutionary mRNA technique and her outstanding contributions to science despite facing grant rejections and funding uncertainty. In advance of her honorary conferring Dr Karikó will meet with UCC medicine and health students and researchers.

UCC has a strong heritage in RNA research. In 2021, a team of UCC researchers led by Professor Atkins, together with Swiss collaborators, made a discovery that highlighted a potential drug target against the Covid causative virus. The pioneering work of Professor Caitriona O’Driscoll and Dr Piotr Kowalski are focused on developing innovative solutions to deliver RNA-based therapeutics.

UCC President Professor John O’Halloran said: “The personal and professional perseverance of Dr Karikó to develop the science that protected our world is deeply inspiring. It is a great honour and privilege to award this Honorary Doctorate to Dr Katalin Karikó, a true pioneer. With unrelenting determination and courage, Dr Karikó has made an enormous contribution to the fight against viral diseases and turned the tide of the pandemic.”

Professor John Cryan, Vice President of Research and Innovation UCC, said: “Dr Kariko is an inspirational role model for everyone involved in basic research and its translation into innovative solutions for global problems. Her story is one of persistence and belief. As we embark on our UCC Futures-Future Medicines initiative here in UCC we are deeply motivated by her research and the power of RNA-based medicines which offer promise for other conditions beyond viral infections including cancers and rare diseases that were previously undruggable. She has enabled future medicines to arrive today”.

Dr Katalin Karikó said: “I am deeply honored to learn that leaders of the University College Cork are awarding me an Honorary Doctorate degree. I am delighted to accept this prestigious recognition and looking forward to visit the University campus, meet the students and professors during my first-time travel to Ireland.”

The challenge for RNA-based researchers at UCC is to develop RNA medicines for chronic diseases where current treatments have researched a therapeutic ceiling and urgent needs exist to develop new innovative and targeted therapies. This goal is the focus of the UCC Futures – Future Medicines initiative launched in 2022 which is recruiting world leading scientists, engineers and clinician investigators at UCC and affiliated hospitals to deliver high-impact, transformational, next generation medicines and medical technologies.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF