Drs. Katalin Karikó, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci Honored with the Friends of the National Library of Medicine’s 2024 Distinguished Medical Science Award

May 27, 2024

Bethesda, May 27, 2024 — Katalin Karikó, Nobel Laureate, Consultant, BioNTech SE, Ugur Sahin, CEO BioNTech SE, and Özlem Türeci, Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech SE will be honored with the Friends of the National Library of Medicine’s Distinguished Medical Science Award at their 2024 Awards Gala.

The Friends of the NLM Awards Gala will be held Tuesday, September 10, 2024, at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, DC.

Registration is open to all.

This is the first time that an eminently successful research team will receive the Distinguished Medical Science Award. 

“With this award we are honored and delighted to recognize the profound achievements of Dr. Sahin, Dr. Türeci, and Dr. Karikó regarding modified mRNA vaccines and the development of the COVID vaccine. Their research has had a decisively beneficial impact on public health and inspired many biomedical researchers and clinicians”,

said Dr. E. Andrew Balas, Vice President of the Friends of the NLM. 

This honor will be in addition to the many others the trio has earned, including the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the Warren Alpert  Prize, the Jeantet-Collen Prize for Medicine, the Meyenburg Prize, the Siemens Ring, the Princess Asturias Award, the Coley Award in Basic Immunology, the German Future prize, the Novo Nordisk Prize and the German Immunology Prize.

Prof. Ugur Sahin, M.D., Co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech, is a physician, immunologist and leader in the development of novel approaches to fight cancer and infectious diseases. Dr. Sahin is one of the world’s foremost experts on messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) medicines. He has pioneered several fundamental breakthroughs enabling the development of mRNA vaccines and other types of immunotherapies. Sahin initiated and oversaw “Project Lightspeed,” the historic development of the first mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, moving from lab and clinical testing to conditional approval within an unprecedented 11-month period. He also leads BioNTech’s research and development of neoantigen specific as well as non -neoantigen specific mRNA cancer vaccines which can be individually tailored and produced on demand according to the profile of non-synonymous mutations identified by next-generation sequencing in patients’ tumors. Ugur Sahin is co-inventor of more than 500 filed patents applications and patents. Sahin’s academic credentials include serving as a Full Professor in Translational Oncology; Immunology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, where he was the supervisor of more than 50 PhD students. He also holds the role of Chairman of the Scientific Management Board of the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON). Based on his contributions to scientific discovery, Sahin has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the German Sustainability Award, the Mustafa Prize, and the German Cancer Award.

Prof. Özlem Türeci, M.D., Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech, is a physician, immunologist, and cancer researcher with translational and clinical experience. Dr. Türeci has helped lead the discovery of cancer antigens, the development of mRNA-based individualized and off-the-shelf vaccine candidates and other types of immunotherapies which are currently in clinical development. Dr. Türeci leads the clinical development of BioNTech’s “Project Lightspeed,” the company’s successful effort to develop and distribute an mRNA-based vaccine against COVID-19, a historic achievement completed in less than one year. Dr. Türeci previously served as CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, which she co- founded with Ugur Sahin and Christoph Huber. She is also a professor for Personalized Immunotherapy at the University Medical Center Mainz and the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology Mainz (HI-TRON) and currently serves as President of the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) in Germany. She is a recipient of the German Sustainability Award, among other notable recognitions.

Katalin Karikó, PhD, is a biochemist and researcher, best known for her contributions to mRNA technology and the COVID-19 vaccines. Karikó and Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, were jointly awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries that enabled the modified mRNA technology used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection. More than 15 years ago at Penn Medicine, Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman found a way to modify mRNA and later developed a delivery technique to package the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles. This made it possible for mRNA to reach the proper part of the body and trigger an immune response to fight disease. These laboratory breakthroughs made mRNA safe, effective, and practical for use as a vaccine against COVID. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received FDA approval in August 2021, and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized by the FDA for emergency use. Dr.Karikó, a senior vice president at BioNTech and an adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania, joined the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 and began collaborating with Weissman in 1997. Dr. Karikó received her bachelor’ s degree in biology in 1978 and her doctorate in biochemistry in 1982 from the University of Szeged in her native Hungary. She was working at the Biological Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Szeged before immigrating to the United States in 1985. Katalin Karikó has made a significant contribution to the basic research on which current mRNA technology is based.

The Friends of the NLM’s Annual Awards recognize scientific and medical leaders who have made significant contributions to health care, biomedical science, librarianship, and public health. These life changing awardees are our contemporaries and the Friends of the NLM has the honor of thanking them. Past recipients include Nobel Laureates, leading scientists who opened new fields of breakthrough discoveries, and developers of innovative technologies. In addition, outstanding health science librarians, leaders of public office, and those who have demonstrated a deep commitment to advancing medical and health science communication are among past and this year’s recipients.