PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded toat the University of Pennsylvania. The prestigious award was given for the technology that created the COVID-19 vaccines.
These two hometown heroes are credited with helping to end the pandemic with the vaccine that came from their work. And when they got the call Monday at 3:40 a.m., they were shocked.
"This has to be a prank," Dr. Drew Weissman said.
Dr. Weissman and Katalin Karikó described the early morning call when they learned they'd won the Nobel Prize in Medicine
"We worked hard, but we enjoyed," Karikó said.
The team from the University of Penn discovered how to modify mRNA, which eventually led to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.
CBS Philadelphia spoke to Dr. Weissman in November of 2020, when he first learned the vaccine was effective.
"Making something that helps people is what my life's dream has been," Weissman said in the 2020 interview.
Dr. Weissman and Karikó said developing the vaccine was a long process with many setbacks
"It had failed clinical trials and pretty much everybody gave up on it," he said.
But they were convinced they'd found a way to activate the immune system.
"If you like to solve problems then science is for you," Karikó said.
It's their work that changed history, leading to the end of the pandemic
"Millions of lives have been saved and scores of others have been protected from severe disease," J. Larry Jameson, the executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania, said.
A huge accomplishment that started with a chance meeting.
"In 1997 we met at the copy machine," Karikó said.
It was that copy machine chat that led to the COVID vaccine, and now the technology is being tested for the treatment of many other illnesses, including cancer.
"More than 250 clinical trials ongoing on mRNA right now," Karikó said.
They didn't say what they'll do with the million dollar Nobel Prize money, instead they are now focused on the next medical breakthrough.
"Science is what moves the world forward," Weissman said.
The scientists and Penn are being paid for the COVID vaccine through licensing fees. There's no information yet on how much that is, but the technology is considered invaluable by many.
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