Katalin Karikó and Anne Schuchat Receive 2023 Fries Prize for Improving Health

Nobel Prize Winner Katalin Karikó, PhD, and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD (RADM, USPHS, RET), today received the 2023 Fries Prize for Improving Health. Karikó was honored for persevering through years of challenges to pioneer work in advancing the mRNA platform, the discovery of which has changed the vaccine field. Schuchat was honored for turning science into impact by preventing infant deaths due to Group B Streptococcal (GBS) disease and saving millions of lives through extraordinary public health leadership.

To combat the COVID-19 pandemic it took the work of Dr. Karikó and her research partner developing the mRNA technology. Dr. Schuchat along with her public health colleagues developed strategies and programs to protect people from a broad range of vaccine-preventable and other infectious diseases including COVID-19. Former CDC Director and public health legend Dr. Bill Foege once said the best vaccine won’t work unless you get shots in arms.

The Fries Prize for Improving Health award was presented this morning at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting, which is taking place in Atlanta. The award recognizes an individual or organization making major contributions to the improvement of public health with emphasis on recent contributions to health. It is intended for those who have done the most to improve health for the greatest number of people. This is the first time in the more than 30-year history of the award that two individuals simultaneously received this recognition. The monetary award for the Fries Prize for Improving Health is $70,000, which will be divided between the recipients.

“Drs. Karikó and Schuchat exemplify the true meaning of the Fries Prize for Improving Health—doing the most good for the most people,” said Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “These two leaders in their respective fields show how medicine and public health can work together to save countless lives. They are both truly inspiring, and I’m grateful for their selfless contributions.”

Karikó, biochemist and researcher best known for her contributions to mRNA technology, was awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Karikó and her research partner, Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, with whom she shares the Nobel Prize, laid the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Karikó is a professor at the University of Szeged and adjunct professor at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, where she has worked for 24 years. For four decades, her research has focused on RNA mediated mechanisms with the ultimate goal of developing in vitro-transcribed mRNA for protein therapy. Her discovery of the mRNA technology used to rapidly develop the COVID vaccine changed the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and paved the way for mRNA treatments for a large number of other acute and chronic diseases.

“Through her creative thinking, brilliance, persistence and absolute dedication, Dr. Karikó has made historic contributions that have not only saved countless millions of lives from SARS-CoV2 but have also led to a new approach for treating devastating diseases,” stated Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, professor emeritus, Ophthalmology and Cell & Developmental Biology and co-director, Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who provided a letter of recommendation for Karikó.

Schuchat’s career with CDC has spanned more than 33 years. Her roles included principal deputy director, acting CDC director, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), chief of the Respiratory Diseases branch and Epidemic Intelligence Service officer. Throughout her public health career, Schuchat dedicated herself to ensuring every person has the opportunity for good health.

Schuchat played key roles in CDC emergency responses including the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019 outbreak of E-cigarette or Vaping-associated Lung Injuries, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza response, the 2003 SARS outbreak in Beijing and the 2001 bioterrorist anthrax response. Globally, she has worked on meningitis, pneumonia and Ebola vaccine trials in West Africa, conducted surveillance and prevention projects in South Africa, and served on the board of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Schuchat is credited with saving thousands of babies in the United States by preventing neonatal Group B Streptococcal disease. During the decade she led the NCIRD, Schuchat emphasized tools for improved communications with parents to sustain childhood immunizations and supported the introduction of several new vaccines in the United States and around the world.

“Dr. Schuchat represents the best of public health—science-based, results oriented, committed to public service in usual and challenging times and responsible for preventing millions of deaths worldwide,” stated Claire Broome, MD, assistant surgeon general US Public Health Service (retired), who nominated Schuchat for the Fries Prize.

The James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation is a nonprofit corporation incorporated in 1991. The mission of the foundation is to identify and honor individuals, organizations or institutions that have made great contributions to the health of the public. The foundation seeks to reward accomplishment rather than promise, practicality rather than theory.

The CDC Foundation is honored to partner with the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, which established and funds the award. As of 2016, the CDC Foundation manages and administers the Fries Foundation’s public health award programs, which include the Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award.