Drew Weissman

Last updated

Drew Weissman

M.D., Ph.D.
Drew Weissman.png
Alma mater Brandeis University (B.A., M.A.)
Boston University (M.D., Ph.D.)
Organization Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Known formodified mRNA technologies used in COVID-19 vaccines
TitleProfessor of medicine
Awards Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (2021)

Drew Weissman (born 1958 or 1959 [1] ) is a physician-scientist best known for his contributions to RNA biology. His work helped enable development of effective mRNA vaccines, the best known of which are those for COVID-19 produced by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna. [2] Weissman is a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He and his research colleague Katalin Karikó have received numerous awards including the presigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. Weissman is a Type 1 Diabetic.


Education and training

Weissman grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. [1] He received his B.A. and M.A. from Brandeis University in 1981, where he majored in biochemistry and enzymology and he worked in the lab of Gerald Fasman. [3] He performed his graduate work at Boston University in immunology and microbiology where he received his M.D. and Ph.D in 1987. [4] 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, the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. [5]


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. [6]

At the university Weissman, an immunologist studying vaccines, met his future colleague and collaborator Katalin Karikó at a photocopy machine, 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. [7] Weissman began collaborating with Karikó, who then switched her focus to the application of RNA technology to vaccines. The main obstacle they faced was that the RNA was causing unwanted immune and inflammatory reactions as adverse responses. In 2005, they published a landmark study that used synthetic nucleosides to modify the RNA to prevent its degradation by the body. [8] This breakthrough laid the groundwork for the use of RNA therapeutics. In 2006, he 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. [9] Weissman hopes that the same technology can be used to develop vaccines against influenza, herpes, and HIV. [1]

Weissman also has been collaborating with scientists in Chulalongkorn University, Thailand to develop and provide COVID-19 vaccines for the country and neighboring low-income countries that may not have immediate access to the vaccine. [2]


Both Weissman and Karikó were awarded the 2020 Rosenstiel Award. [10] He was given an honorary degree by the Drexel University College of Medicine. [1] In 2021, he was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award in the category "Scientific Research". [11] Also in 2021 he and Karikó received the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, [12] the Albany Medical Center Prize, [13] and the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. [14]

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. [1]


Weissman is the inventor on many patents, including US8278036B2 [15] and US8748089B2, [16] 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. [17]

Related Research Articles

Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award is one of four annual awards presented by the Lasker Foundation. The Lasker-DeBakey award is given to honor outstanding work for the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and cure of disease. This award was renamed in 2008 in honor of Michael E. DeBakey. It was previously known as the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research.

Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency Medicine regulation agency in the UK

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.

The Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research is awarded by Brandeis University. It was established in 1971 "as an expression of the conviction that educational institutions have an important role to play in the encouragement and development of basic science as it applies to medicine".

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry is an annual prize awarded by Columbia University to a researcher or group of researchers who have made an outstanding contribution in basic research in the fields of biology or biochemistry.

Moderna American biotechnology company innovating on mRNA-based medicines

Moderna, Inc is an American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It focuses on vaccine technologies based on messenger RNA (mRNA). Moderna's vaccine platform inserts synthetic nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) into human cells using a coating of lipid nanoparticles. This mRNA then reprograms the cells to prompt immune responses. Moderna develops mRNA therapeutic vaccines that are delivered in lipid nanoparticles, using mRNA with pseudouridine nucleosides. Candidates are designed to have improved folding and translation efficiency via insertional mutagenesis.

Derrick Rossi Canadian stem cell biologist

Derrick J. Rossi, is a Canadian stem cell biologist and entrepreneur. He is known for co-founding the biotechnology company Moderna.

mRNA vaccine Type of vaccine

An mRNAvaccine is a type of vaccine that uses a copy of a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) to produce an immune response. The vaccine delivers molecules of antigen-encoding mRNA into immune cells, which use the designed mRNA as a construction plan to build foreign protein that would normally be produced by a pathogen or by a cancer cell. These protein molecules stimulate an adaptive immune response that teaches the body to identify and destroy the corresponding pathogen or cancer cells. The mRNA is delivered by a co-formulation of the RNA encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles that protect the RNA strands and help their absorption into the cells.

COVID-19 vaccine Vaccine designed to provide acquired immunity against SARS-CoV-2

A COVID‑19 vaccine is a vaccine intended to provide acquired immunity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19). Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, an established body of knowledge existed about the structure and function of coronaviruses causing diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This knowledge accelerated the development of various vaccine platforms during early 2020. The initial focus of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines was on preventing symptomatic, often severe illness. On 10 January 2020, the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence data was shared through GISAID, and by 19 March, the global pharmaceutical industry announced a major commitment to address COVID-19. The COVID‑19 vaccines are widely credited for their role in reducing the spread, severity, and death caused by COVID-19.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine RNA COVID-19 vaccine

The Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine, codenamed mRNA-1273 and sold under the brand name Spikevax, is a COVID-19 vaccine developed by American company Moderna, the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). It is authorized for use in people aged twelve years and older in some jurisdictions and for people eighteen years and older in other jurisdictions to provide protection against COVID-19 which is caused by infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is designed to be administered as two or three 0.5 mL doses given by intramuscular injection at an interval of at least 28 days apart.

Katalin Karikó Hungarian biochemist

Katalin Karikó is a Hungarian biochemist who specializes in RNA-mediated mechanisms. Her research has been the development of in vitro-transcribed mRNA for protein therapies. She co-founded and was CEO of RNARx, from 2006 to 2013. Since 2013, she has been associated with BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, first as a vice president and promoted to senior vice president in 2019. She also is an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

BioNTech German biotechnology company

BioNTech SE is a German biotechnology company based in Mainz that develops and manufactures active immunotherapies for patient-specific approaches to the treatment of diseases. It develops pharmaceutical candidates based on messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) for use as individualized cancer immunotherapies, as vaccines against infectious diseases and as protein replacement therapies for rare diseases, and also engineered cell therapy, novel antibodies and small molecule immunomodulators as treatment options for cancer.

Uğur Şahin oncologist

Uğur Şahin is an oncologist and immunologist based in Germany, and the CEO of BioNTech, which helped develop one of the major vaccines against COVID-19. His main fields of research are cancer research and immunology.

Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine

The Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, sold under the brand name Comirnaty, is an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine developed by the German biotechnology company BioNTech and for its development collaborated with American company Pfizer, for support with clinical trials, logistics, and manufacturing. It is authorized for use in people aged twelve years and older in some jurisdictions and for people sixteen years and older in other jurisdictions, to provide protection against COVID-19, caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The vaccine is given by intramuscular injection. It is composed of nucleoside-modified mRNA (modRNA) encoding a mutated form of the full-length spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which is encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles. Initial advice indicated that vaccination required two doses given 21 days apart, but the interval was later extended to up to 42 days in the US, and up to four months in Canada.

Özlem Türeci German physician, scientist and entrepreneur

Özlem Türeci is a German physician, scientist and entrepreneur. In 2008, she co-founded the biotechnology company BioNTech, which in 2020 developed the first messenger RNA-based vaccine approved for use against COVID-19. Türeci has served as BioNTech's chief medical officer since 2018. Previously, she co-founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals in 2001 and served as CEO until the company was acquired by Astellas Pharma in 2016. Earlier, Türeci worked primarily in research and teaching. She is also a Privatdozentin at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Türeci and her spouse, Uğur Şahin, have won a number of awards, and in 2020, became the first Turkish German on the list of Germany's top 100 wealthiest people.

A nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) is a synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) in which some nucleosides are replaced by other naturally modified nucleosides or by synthetic nucleoside analogues. modRNA is used to induce the production of a desired protein in certain cells. An important application is the development of mRNA vaccines, of which the first authorized were COVID-19 vaccines.

ALC-0315 Chemical compound

ALC-0315 is a synthetic lipid. A colorless oily material, it has attracted attention as a component of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, BNT162b2, from BioNTech and Pfizer. Specifically, it is one of four components that form lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), which encapsulate and protect the otherwise fragile mRNA that is the active ingredient in these drugs. These nanoparticles promote the uptake of therapeutically effective nucleic acids such as oligonucleotides or mRNA both in vitro and in vivo.

History of COVID-19 vaccine development Scientific work to develop a vaccine for COVID-19

COVID-19's caused virus, SARS-CoV-2, was isolated in late 2019. Its genetic sequence was published on 11 January 2020, triggering an urgent international response to prepare for an outbreak and hasten development of a preventive COVID-19 vaccine. Since 2020, vaccine development has been expedited via unprecedented collaboration in the multinational pharmaceutical industry and between governments. By June 2020, tens of billions of dollars were invested by corporations, governments, international health organizations, and university research groups to develop dozens of vaccine candidates and prepare for global vaccination programs to immunize against COVID‑19 infection. According to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the geographic distribution of COVID‑19 vaccine development shows North American entities to have about 40% of the activity, compared to 30% in Asia and Australia, 26% in Europe, and a few projects in South America and Africa.

COVID-19 vaccination in Canada COVID-19 vaccination programme in Canada

The COVID-19 vaccination program in Canada is an ongoing, intergovernmental effort coordinated between the bodies responsible in the Government of Canada to acquire and distribute vaccines to individual provincial and territorial governments who in turn administer authorized COVID-19 vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. Some provinces have asked local municipal governments, hospital systems, family doctors and independently owned pharmacies to aid in part, or in full with vaccination rollout. The vaccination effort in full is the largest such immunization effort in the nation's history; it started in mid-December 2020 and is currently ongoing.

CureVac COVID-19 vaccine Vaccine candidate against COVID-19

The CureVac COVID-19 vaccine is a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by CureVac N.V. and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The vaccine showed inadequate results in its Phase III trials with only 47% efficacy.

Robert Wallace Malone is an American virologist and immunologist. His work has focused on mRNA technology, pharmaceuticals, and drug repurposing research. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been criticized for promoting misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 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.
  2. 1 2 "This Philly Scientist's Technology Helped Make the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Possible". November 12, 2020.
  3. "The Brandeis alum whose research may lead to a COVID-19 vaccine". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  4. "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.
  5. Johnson, Carolyn Y. "A gamble pays off in 'spectacular success': How the leading coronavirus vaccines made it to the finish line". Washington Post. ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  6. "Drew Weissman, MD, PhD profile". www.pennmedicine.org. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  7. "Drew Weissman, l'architecte des vaccins contre le Covid-19". LEFIGARO (in French). Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  8. Karikó, Katalin; Buckstein, Michael; Ni, Houping; Weissman, Drew (August 2005). "Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA". Immunity. 23 (2): 165–175. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2005.06.008 . ISSN   1074-7613. PMID   16111635.
  9. "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines". Center for Disease Control and Prevention. March 4, 2021. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  10. "Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research". www.brandeis.edu. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
  11. Princess of Asturias Award 2021
  12. Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize 2021
  13. Albany Medical Center Prize 2021
  14. Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award
  15. "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  16. "Espacenet – search results". worldwide.espacenet.com. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  17. Dolgin, Elie (June 4, 2015). "Business: The billion-dollar biotech". Nature News. 522 (7554): 26–28. Bibcode:2015Natur.522...26D. doi: 10.1038/522026a . PMID   26040878. S2CID   4450181.