Crown Author Katalin Karikó Awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Long before the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, the visionary, Hungarian-born biochemist Katalin Karikó knew that an ephemeral and underappreciated molecule called messenger RNA could change the world. Karikó worked for more than three decades at her lab bench, in the single-minded pursuit of a breakthrough that would confirm her hunch: that mRNA could transform ordinary cells into tiny factories capable of producing their own medicines on demand.
Her memoir, BREAKING THROUGH: My Life in Science will be released by Crown next week, on October 10! The memoir is an inspiring story of perseverance and the power of convictions, from a groundbreaking immigrant scientist whose decades-long research paved the way for the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines.
Her journey was an unlikely one. The daughter of a butcher in postwar communist Hungary, Karikó grew up in an adobe house that lacked running water, and her family grew their own vegetables. She discovered science through a love of observing the world around her, and with the help of encouraging teachers, she pursued a career in biochemical research. In 1985, Karikó took a postdoctoral fellowship in the United States, famously arriving with $1,200 clandestinely sewn into the teddy bear of her toddler, who later became a 2-time Olympic champion.
Karikó worked in obscurity, battled cockroaches in a windowless lab, and faced outright derision and even deportation threats from her bosses and colleagues. She balked as prestigious research institutions increasingly tying science research to the potential for monetary rewards. Despite setbacks, she never wavered in her belief that mRNA had the potential to radically change medicine; and she was right.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines protected millions of people from the most dire consequences of COVID-19, and these vaccines are just the beginning of mRNA’s potential. Today, the medical community eagerly awaits more mRNA vaccines—for the flu, HIV, and other emerging infectious diseases.
BREAKING THROUGH is the story of an extraordinary woman, a love of science, and the power of research. It’s also an indictment of closed-minded thinking and a testament to integrity, self-belief, and hard work in the face of rejection and criticism. Kariko’s hard-earned hope—knowing she might never be recognized in a culture that is more driven by prestige, power, and privilege—is a beacon of light for anyone who has felt hopeless in the face of professional or personal setbacks.