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Hungarian scientist Katalin Kariko to be showcased in HBO show on Covid vaccine race


Budapest, Hungary – The key role played by Katalin Kariko, the Hungarian biochemist whose work has proved essential for the development of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, should feature prominently in HBO’s upcoming show on the topic.

Based on the narrative book of Los Angeles-based and award-winning reporter Brendan Borrell, HBO’s upcoming limited series The First Shots will look at the global race to develop, procure and distribute the Covid-19 vaccines, putting the spotlight on the key actors – from political leaders to pharmaceutical companies and scientists – involved in one of our era’s biggest stories.

Developed with Succession executive producer Adam McKay, The First Shots should not only look at the political and social aspects of the race, but also focus on the science and technology behind the rapid development of anti-Covid vaccines.

“The story of the global coronavirus vaccine race: the companies and individuals putting everything on the line to save lives, the fascinating and surprising science that it is based on, and the challenges playing out around politics, access and safety,” as HBO describes the upcoming show.

Key characters in the series will include former US President Donald Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna Albert Bourla and Stephane Bancel.

The researchers whose work has been instrumental in developing the technology behind the anti-Covid vaccines should also play a key role in the show, including Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko who has been credited with developing the revolutionary mRNA technology.

Recently featured on TIME’s Heroes of the Year cover, Katalin Kariko was born in a small Hungarian village and graduated from the University of Szeged in the 1970s. In 1985, she left communist Hungary and moved to the United States with her husband, a 2-year-old daughter and $1,200 hidden inside a teddy bear.

Working at Philadelphia’s Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, she pioneered the research on synthetic messenger RNA, a single-stranded messenger molecule that delivers genetic instructions from DNA to the cell’s protein-making factories, throughout the 1990s and 2000s despite it long being considered a dead-end by the scientific community.

Since 2013, she’s been senior vice-President of BioNTech, and has licensed the modified mRNA technology developed alongside American colleague Drew Weissman to both BioNTech and Moderna.

Widely recognized as the pioneer of a technology that has saved countless lives, she’s been slated as a potential Nobel Prize laureate.

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.