The woman behind the vaccine breakthrough


With her research, biochemist Katalin Karikó has laid the foundation for the development of RNA vaccines against the coronavirus. Now she is coming to the University of Würzburg to give a public lecture.

Die Forscherin Katalin Karikó kommt an die Universität Würzburg.
Researcher Katalin Karikó visits the University of Würzburg. (Image: Vilcek Foundation / MHamiltonVisuals / (Image: Vilcek Foundation / MHamiltonVisuals /

She is considered "a key pioneer in the development of mRNA-based vaccines," writes the Frankfurter Rundschau. She made "a discovery that seems worthy of a Nobel Prize to many experts," says the Süddeutsche Zeitung. And for the New York Times, she is "the woman who helped protect the world from the new Corona virus".

In all three cases, the biochemist Katalin Karikó is meant. Born in Hungary, she has been living and conducting research in the USA since 1985 at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2013 until the end of September 2022, she was senior vice president at BioNTech in Mainz. Since then, she has also been a professor at the University of Szeged (Hungary).

Her research focuses on RNA-mediated activation of immune response. She paved the way for production of mRNA-based vaccines. The approach she co-developed was not only effective in combating the Corona pandemic. In the future, it will also be used in the prevention and treatment of many other diseases - from HIV and influenza to cancer.

Time and place

Katalin Karikó is now coming to the University of Würzburg to give a lecture. On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, she will speak on the topic "Developing mRNA for therapy". Start is at 17:15, and the lecture will be English. Utz Fischer, Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Würzburg, will give a short introduction. Beforehand, Wolfgang Rössler, speaker of the Biocenter, and University President Paul Pauli present welcome addresses.

The lecture will take place at the Biocenter, Hubland Campus South, lecture hall A101. Access to the live stream will be provided on the day of the event at

Theodor Boveri Award for Katalin Karikó

Karikó was invited to the Biocenter by the Würzburg Physical Medical Society (Societas Physico-Medica). The society was founded in 1849 as one of the first medical-scientific societies in Germany.

Every year, the society awards the "Theodor Boveri Prize" to an outstanding scientist whose excellent work has opened new possibilities in biomedical research and its application to humans. The prize is accompanied by an invitation for the “Theodor Boveri Lecture”.

Karikó had been awarded this prize back in 2021. Due to the corona pandemic, she was not able to come to Würzburg until now.

Summer festival with award ceremony and exhibition opening

The lecture is part of the summer festival of the Biocenter. During this event, Dr. Sarah Redlich, a researcher in the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III) at the University of Würzburg, will be awarded the Marcella Boveri Prize. The award from the Faculty of Biology goes to excellent female scientists between postdoctorate and professorship.

Another highlight during the summer festival is the opening of the new Theodor Boveri exhibition in the entrance hall of the Biocenter. The exhibition has been developed in cooperation with the Würzburg University Museology team, the Technical University of Würzburg-Schweinfurt, and the Biology Didactics group. The exhibition highlights the life, work, and long-lasting impact of Theodor and Marcella Boveri and is intended to appeal especially to young people interested in science. During the festival, there will be the opportunity to participate in guided tours of the exhibition.

By Gunnar Bartsch