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Biochemist Karikó honoured in her Hungarian home town for COVID work

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By Philip Andrew Churm
Biochemist Karikó honoured in her Hungarian home town for COVID work
Copyright  Matthias Schrader/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The Hungarian-born biochemist Katalin Karikó who was crucial in developing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been made an Honorary Citizen of Szeged; where she started her university studies.

Karikó, who is the vice-president of BioNTech, became best known for her work with mRNA technology that is used in the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines.

But the researcher feels she has done all she can in the fight against the COVID epidemic and will now be returning to her previous projects, such as developing a vaccine against cancer.

"I think at the moment, testing new variants and, if necessary, making a new vaccine - that can be done by my colleagues," she said.

"I want to focus on making RNA that encodes therapeutic proteins that will help heal wounds, scar bones, or that will help cure patients with cancer."

Katalin Karikó moved to the United States in the 1980s. Before that, she studied at the University of Szeged in southern Hungary and then did her PhD at the Szeged Biological Research Centre.

In addition to being given Honorary Citizen status she met with her alma mater from the University of Szeged and they remembered that some subjects were particularly challenging.

"I was the most afraid of organic chemistry," she recalls.

"Gábor Bernáth was teaching us all the heterocyclic compounds - we couldn't stop memorising the special names. In the end, I picked the simplest one, polyamines, which was very simple, there was nothing heterocyclic about it."

After receiving numerous professional awards, Katalin Karikó is now in the running for this year's Nobel Prize.