Recent vaccine development puts German pharmaceutical firm BioNTech at the forefront
MAINZ, Germany — The email arriving just before 1 a.m in the old German city of Mainz. The worldwide campaign to produce a reliable coronaviral vaccine – and to the little established biotechnology firm that helped to create it – was expected to turn in the morning.
Any times BioNTech was depicted as the junior partner in Pfizer’s race in the U.S. pharmaceutical world for COVID vaccine approval. In reality, using genetics technologies to defeat the virus was necessary if British regulators were to produce the vaccine rapidly early Wednesday for emergency use.
BioNTech was developed twelve years ago to prepare the immune system to attack aggressive agents from the viruses to its tumors, using so-called RNA messengers. Until now, the technology had never been approved for a drug in humans, but the company’s founders said they immediately saw the potential when the virus first emerged early this year.
“In a recent interview with the Associated Press when we understood that this outbreak could become a global pandemic, we felt that it would be obligatory to start vaccine development.”
“We have technologies in place to produce vaccines and to ultra-fastly evaluate applicants,” he said.
Sahin, who came to Germany as a young child from Turkey with his parents, also said he and his colleagues recognized that there are no ways of performing mass trials of tens of thousands of volunteers for vaccine applications, which is important to testing whether a shooting is both productive and safe.
“We had to collaborate very clearly from the beginning,” Sahin said.
He immediately met Pfizer, with whom BioNTech had previously begun work on a flu vaccine, and researchers in both organizations continued collaborating together before the signing of commercial contracts.
“This relationship based on trust is one of the key factors for our speed since it enabled us to share information, start sharing information and avoid any sort of delay,” Sahin said.
This was followed by a flurry of events when BioNTech and Pfizer were the first to get an emergency clearance for a COVID vaccine for rivals such as Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Moderna. In comparison to competitors in China and Russia, both businesses have followed the proven course of trials, reporting findings as they go, and sending them for approval by independent regulators.
While authorities in the United States, Britain and the European Union indicated they would make a decision before the end of the year, it wasn’t clear who would be first until U.K. authorities announced they’d approved the BioNTech-Pfizer shot Wednesday.
The BioNTech Chief Commercial Officer of BioNTech, Sean Marett informedThe AP: “It was really soon (e-mail) early this morning in the early hours that we got an approval from regulators.
Marett, a seasoned British man who talked gently about the pharmaceutical industry, said the company had little time yet to rejoice.
“We are so busy in the manufacturing of U.K.” packets,” he said, adding that in the next 24 to 48 hours the first transports will possibly reach the road.
Marett declined to take shortcuts from British authorities saying that they had asked “very deep questions and detailed questions, like any other agency.”
BioNTech expects that vaccine sales will offset growth and manufacturing costs better than they cover. It is hoped that in 2021 at least 1,3 billion doses of COVID will be delivered with Pfizer and the Chinese distributor Fosun Pharma.
“We’re a biotech company that makes losses and we need to make money of course, so that we can keep up business,” he said.
Marett said that the business currently employs 1,800 employees and plans to expand over the next two years and will continue to concentrate on the production of new medicines. Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech with his wife Ozlem Tureci, said the firm has produced a dozen different shots, including for HIV and tuberculosis, in addition to the flu vaccines that are being developed with Pfizer.
“That’s what BioNTech means, and this is what fascinates us with our work, using new technologies to tackle diseases,” said Marett to the AP. “We were hopeful that this approach could be useful for society at least with the earliest approval.”