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The professorship and fellowship, newly established by the Perelman School of Medicine, will attempt to expand the use of mRNA technology and innovative biological approaches to develop vaccines against other infectious diseases. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

The Perelman School of Medicine announced a new fellowship and professorship dedicated to vaccine research and development. 

The Aileen and Brian Roberts foundation will fund the Roberts Family Professorship in Vaccine Research and the Katalin Karikó Fellowship Fund in Vaccine Development to “further cement Penn as a home for mRNA research,” Penn Medicine News reported.

“Penn has long been at the forefront of cutting-edge research and technology advances, and its discovery of RNA-based vaccines is another incredible achievement for the institution and the city of Philadelphia,” Aileen and Brian Roberts told Penn Medicine News. “It is our family’s privilege to support the life-changing research conducted at Penn.”

The Katalin Karikó Fellowship Fund in Vaccine Development will provide financial support to an inaugural recipient, who will be awarded later this year, for vaccine research at the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Professor of Medicine Drew Weissman — whose research allowed for the development of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine — was named the inaugural Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research. With the support of the Roberts Family Program, Weissman and his team are working to develop a new vaccine that will protect against the broader classification of coronaviruses.

Karikó, a professor at the Medical School, also worked to develop mRNA technology that was later used in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines administered by Pfizer and Moderna. 

“[Karikó and I] knew when we started with this technology that it would be very useful if a pandemic hit because it’s so fast and so easy to make a vaccine with it,” Weissman told the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The professorship and fellowship will attempt to expand the use of mRNA technology and innovative biological approaches to develop vaccines against other infectious diseases.

“The Roberts family has been an exceptional partner in Penn Medicine’s quest to investigate bold approaches that support our vision for the future of health care,” Dean of the Medical School J. Larry Jameson told Penn Medicine News. “[Weissman and Karikó’s] groundbreaking science has inspired the world and now, buoyed by the Roberts family’s tremendous generosity, it has sparked an ambitious research agenda that we are excited to see unfold in the fight against many other infectious diseases and even conditions like cancer.”

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