The Female Scientists Who Co-Developed the COVID Vaccines in Record Time
FemWealth Issue #3 | World Health Day
Health is wealth, sounds truer than ever in recent history. The Covid-19 global pandemic urged us to prioritize our health and healthcare systems.
To mark World Health Day, celebrated annually on April 7, FemWealth Issue #3 and #4 focus on exceptional women reinventing health sciences, women’s health, and FemTech.
Frontline healthcare workers made headlines for their heroic efforts in saving the lives of coronavirus patients, many at the cost of their own. Female healthcare workers are most exposed to the deadly virus. They deserve more protection, recognition, respect, and fair pay.
The record-time development of the COVID Vaccines astounded even the most optimistic. This success was the result of unprecedented international collaboration efforts between scientific institutes, pharma and biotech companies, regulators, and governments.
Female scientists played essential roles in designing and developing the first Covid vaccines to win approval in the EU and the US. Their intelligence, grit, and decades-long experience in scientific research and the healthcare industry, are remarkable. Get to know their stories:
Katalin Karikó, Senior VP & Head of RNA Protein Replacement Therapies at BioNTechBioNTech, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Karikó’s life story is about resilience, and refusal to quit. She spent forty years of her career researching the therapeutical applications of mRNA (messenger RNA). Her ideas were considered too novel and financially risky to fund and dismissed both in her native Hungary and in the US, where she moved with her family. A long series of demotions, grant rejections, job losses, and even a cancer diagnosis didn’t stop her.
Her relentless conviction led to a breakthrough. Dr. Kariko together with her colleague Drew Weissman developed a method of utilizing synthetic mRNA to fight a disease that involves changing the way the body produces virus-fighting material. Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (the companies that developed mRNA Covid-vaccines) licensed the technology developed by Karikó and Weissman.
Özlem Türeci, Physician, Scientist, Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech, co-discoverer of the world’s first authorized COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Türeci and her husband Dr. Uğur Șahin, gained international recognition for developing the first COVID-19 vaccine to win approval by two of the world’s most credible regulators. The record-breaking discovery and development of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were based on the couple’s expertise in immunology and oncology research. They continue to pursue their life-long mission to find effective cancer therapies.
Kathrin Jansen, Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research and Development, Pfizer
Dr. Jansen orchestrated the collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech, managing a team of hundreds of scientists and executives. Under her leadership, the vaccine gained fast approval and was ready to be administered to millions of people worldwide. A pharma industry veteran with immense experience in leading research and development scientific projects at scale. She drove the development of numerous vaccines, including the world’s first vaccine for cervical cancer.
Kizzmekia Corbett, Scientific Lead - Coronavirus Vaccine Program, The National Institutes of Health, USA
“I think my love of discovery in science melded with my empathetic nature for people. And having studied health disparities from a sociological standpoint in college, and at the same time being in a vaccine lab and seeing how the two really could benefit from one another, helped me to say, 'Well, if I'm going to be asking questions, I might as well ask some questions that inform vaccine development so that I can really have a translatable way that can help people en masse.'” - Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Dr. Corbet, a young African American viral immunologist, played a key role in the development of the Moderna vaccine, as part of the collaboration between the NIH and the biotech company Moderna. Dr. Corbett is a strong advocate for access to healthcare for African Americans, a community disproportionally affected by the coronavirus.
Listen to the podcast:
Sarah Gilbert, Oxford Project Leader for the Covid vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, Professor of Vaccinology at Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, co-founder of Vaccitech
Professor Gilbert and her team at Oxford University designed a reliable and cost-effective vaccine in accelerated time. Once they identified the genetic information of the coronavirus they were able to add it to their vaccine platform technology. Through a collaboration with AstraZeneca, the Oxford vaccine was developed and made available at scale.
These bright scientists are inspiring role models for young generations of scientists and healthcare experts. Their incredible leadership, dedication, hard work, and perseverance saved and continue to save countless lives.
Happy Easter & Stay healthy!
Founder and Writer @FemWealth