Drew Weissman
Weissman in 2022
Born (1959-09-07) September 7, 1959 (age 64)
Known forModified mRNA technologies used in COVID-19 vaccines
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania
ThesisRegulation of B Lymphocytes with Reagents That Cross-Link Surface Immunoglobulin (1987)
Doctoral advisorAnn Marshak-Rothstein

Drew Weissman (born September 7, 1959) is an American physician and immunologist known for his contributions to RNA biology. Weissman is the inaugural Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation, and professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

Weissman's work underlies the development of mRNA vaccines, the best known of which are those for COVID-19 produced by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.[1] With biochemist Katalin Karikó, Weissman received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2023 "for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19".[2][3][4] Weissman has been a recipient and co-recipient of numerous awards, also including the prestigious Lasker–DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. In 2022, he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine[5] and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6]

Early life and education

Weissman was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, on September 7, 1959,[7] to Hal and Adele Weissman.[8] Hal is Jewish and Adele is Italian.[9][10] While his mother did not convert to Judaism, he grew up celebrating all the Jewish holidays.[11] He grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts[12] and attended Lexington High School, graduating in 1977.[13]

Weissman received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Brandeis University in 1981, where he majored in biochemistry and enzymology and he worked in the lab of Gerald Fasman.[14] He performed his graduate work in immunology and microbiology to receive his M.D. and Ph.D. in 1987 at Boston University.[15] Afterward, Weissman did a residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, followed by a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the supervision of Anthony Fauci, then director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.[16]


Weissman with Katalin Karikó in 2022

In 1997, Weissman moved to the University of Pennsylvania to start his laboratory in order to study RNA and innate immune system biology. He is now the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research at the university.[17]

At the university, Weissman, an immunologist studying vaccines, met his future colleague and collaborator Katalin Karikó at a photocopier, where they sympathized about the lack of funding for RNA research. At the time, Karikó had been trying RNA therapy on cerebral diseases and strokes.[18] Immunologist Weissman began collaborating with biochemist Karikó, who switched her focus to the application of RNA technology to vaccines.[19] Weissman’s support was critical in helping Karikó to continue and extend her research. Slowly they began to move the technology forward, solving problems one at a time. On the difficulty of gaining funding and recognition for their work, Weissman has commented "We had to fight the entire way."[20]

One of the major scientific obstacles they faced was that the RNA caused unwanted immune and inflammatory reactions as adverse side effects. Beginning in 2005, they published several landmark studies that used synthetic nucleosides to modify the RNA to prevent its degradation by the body.[21][22] This breakthrough laid the groundwork for the use of RNA therapeutics, though the study received little attention at the time.[23]

Weissman and Karikó overcame another major obstacle by developing a delivery technique to package the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles, a novel pharmaceutical drug delivery system for mRNA that protects the fragile molecule until it can reach the desired area of the body.[24] They demonstrated the effectiveness of the delivery system in animals.[25]

In 2006, Weissman and Karikó co-founded RNARx. Their objective was to develop novel RNA therapies. In 2020 their modified RNA technology became the key foundational component of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which were deployed worldwide against the COVID-19 pandemic.[26]

Weissman has been collaborating with scientists at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, most recently to develop and provide COVID-19 vaccines for the country and neighboring low and middle income countries that may not have immediate access to the vaccine.[1][27][28]

Weissman's laboratory continues to actively research the use of mRNA for next-generation vaccines, gene editing, and mRNA therapeutics. Projects include development of a pan coronavirus vaccines, gene editing technology to enable genes that produce missing antibodies, and treatments for acute inflammatory conditions.[29] Weissman hopes that mRNA technology can be used to develop vaccines against influenza, herpes, and HIV.[12]


For their mRNA-related work, Weissman and Karikó were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine,[2] the 2020 Rosenstiel Award, [30] the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize,[31] the Albany Medical Center Prize,[32] the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award,[33] and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award[34] (also with Robert S. Langer).

Weissman obtained a honorary degree by the Drexel University College of Medicine.[12] In 2021, he was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award in the category for Scientific Research.[35] For 2022 he was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal[36] of the NAS jointly with Katalin Karikó and also the Japan Prize[37] Also in 2022 he received the Robert Koch Prize[38] and the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science, the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement,[39] and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[40][41] In 2023 he received the Harvey Prize of the Technion in Israel (awarded for the year 2021).[42]

According to a report in The Washington Post, Weissman gets fan mail from people all over the world, thanking him for his work that made the COVID-19 vaccine possible — one said "You've made hugs and closeness possible again" — and asking him for a picture or his autograph.[12]


Weissman is the co-inventor on several patents, including US8278036B2[43] and US8748089B2,[44] both with his colleague Katalin Karikó, which detail the modifications required to make RNA suitable for vaccines and other therapies. Later, these patents were licensed to Gary Dahl, founder and CEO of Cellscript, who subsequently licensed the technology to Moderna and BioNTech to ultimately use in their COVID-19 vaccines.[45]


  1. ^ a b "This Philly Scientist's Technology Helped Make the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Possible". November 12, 2020. Archived from the original on November 13, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  3. ^ "Covid | Premio Nobel de Medicina 2023: qué es el ARN mensajero por el que premiaron a Katalin Karikó y Drew Weissman". BBC News (in Spanish). October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  4. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  5. ^ "NAM Members Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman Receive Nobel Prize in Medicine". National Academy of Medicine. October 2, 2023.
  6. ^ "Drew Weissman". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. October 5, 2023.
  7. ^ "Drew Weissman". nobelprize.org. October 2, 2023. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  8. ^ O’Kane, Caitlin (October 6, 2023). "This Nobel Prize winner's call to his parents has gone viral. But they always thought he could win it". CBS News. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  9. ^ "Drew Weissman, Katalin Karikó win Nobel in medicine for enabling mRNA COVID vaccines". www.timesofisrael.com.
  10. ^ "Jewish American scientist wins Nobel Prize in Medicine for COVID vaccine". The Jerusalem Post. October 2, 2023.
  11. ^ Agencies and ToI Staff. "Drew Weissman, Katalin Karikó win Nobel in medicine for enabling mRNA COVID vaccines". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d Johnson, Carolyn Y. (October 1, 2021). "A scientific hunch. Then silence. Until the world needed a lifesaving vaccine". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  13. ^ "An Overview of Vaccines".
  14. ^ "The Brandeis alum whose research may lead to a COVID-19 vaccine". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  15. ^ "Drew Weissman | Faculty | About Us | Perelman School of Medicine | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania". www.med.upenn.edu. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  16. ^ Johnson, Carolyn Y. "A gamble pays off in 'spectacular success': How the leading coronavirus vaccines made it to the finish line". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  17. ^ "Drew Weissman, MD, PhD profile". www.pennmedicine.org. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  18. ^ "Drew Weissman, l'architecte des vaccins contre le Covid-19". LEFIGARO (in French). December 24, 2020. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  19. ^ Franzoni, Chiara; Stephan, Paula; Veugelers, Reinhilde (June 2021). "Funding Risky Research". doi:10.3386/w28905. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ De George, Matthew (2021). "The Vaccine Trenches" (PDF). The Pennsylvania Gazette. No. May/June. pp. 42–49.
  21. ^ Hogan, Michael J.; Pardi, Norbert (January 27, 2022). "mRNA Vaccines in the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond". Annual Review of Medicine. 73 (1): 17–39. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-042420-112725. ISSN 0066-4219. PMID 34669432. S2CID 239050929.
  22. ^ Katalin Karikó; Michael Buckstein; Houping Ni; Drew Weissman (August 2005). "Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA". Immunity. 23 (2): 165–75. doi:10.1016/J.IMMUNI.2005.06.008. ISSN 1074-7613. PMID 16111635. Wikidata Q24316383.
  23. ^ Kolata, Gina (April 8, 2021). "Long Overlooked, Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  24. ^ Żak, Magdalena M.; Zangi, Lior (October 13, 2021). "Lipid Nanoparticles for Organ-Specific mRNA Therapeutic Delivery". Pharmaceutics. 13 (10): 1675. doi:10.3390/pharmaceutics13101675. ISSN 1999-4923. PMC 8538155. PMID 34683969.
  25. ^ "Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman". National Academy of Sciences.
  26. ^ "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines". Center for Disease Control and Prevention. March 4, 2021. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  27. ^ "Chula Medicine Announced the Success of Clinical Trials for the "ChulaCov19" Vaccine". Chulalongkorn University. August 23, 2021.
  28. ^ Saengmanee, Pattarawadee (June 15, 2021). "Leading by example". Bangkok Post.
  29. ^ Siddiqui, Imran (April 6, 2021). "Penn professor whose mRNA research paved way for COVID-19 vaccine is leading new treatments". www.thedp.com.
  30. ^ "Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research". www.brandeis.edu. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
  31. ^ "The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize". Columbia University Irving Medical Center. June 14, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  32. ^ Albany Medical Center Prize 2021
  33. ^ Hofschneider, Mark. "Modified mRNA vaccines". Lasker Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  34. ^ "Find out about the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award". Premios Fronteras.
  35. ^ IT, Developed with webControl CMS by Intermark. "Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman, Philip Felgner, Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci, Derrick Rossi and Sarah Gilbert – Laureates – Princess of Asturias Awards". The Princess of Asturias Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  36. ^ "Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal". www.nasonline.org.
  37. ^ "The Japan Prize Foundation". The Japan Prize Foundation.
  38. ^ "Aktuelle Presse-Informationen". www.robert-koch-stiftung.de.
  39. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  40. ^ "Tang Prize | Media | 2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science Honors Three Scientists for Developing COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines". www.tang-prize.org.
  41. ^ "Awards and Accolades | The Weissman Lab | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania". www.med.upenn.edu.
  42. ^ "Harvey Prize 2021". Archived from the original on June 1, 2016. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
  43. ^ "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  44. ^ "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  45. ^ Elie Dolgin (June 1, 2015). "Business: The billion-dollar biotech". Nature. 522 (7554): 26–28. Bibcode:2015Natur.522...26D. doi:10.1038/522026A. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 26040878. S2CID 4450181. Wikidata Q85290452.