German Biotechnology Company BioNTech Says Cancer Vaccines May Be Available In A ‘Couple of Years’
March 19, 2021 Source: Associated Press
Scientists Ugur Sahin, 55, and Ozlem Tureci, 53, behind the groundbreaking research in the field of modified genetic code behind the world's first effective coronavirus vaccine says the technology behind it will soon be used to fight cancer.
The couple have dedicated their lives to the field of oncology and infectious diseases, and spent years pioneering personalized immunotherapy treatments for cancer. The German biotech company BioNTech uses the never-before-approved technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to spark an immune response in people who are vaccinated.
Within 11 months, Britain had allowed the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States. Tens of millions of people worldwide have received the shot since December.
“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.
Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company that had yet to get a product to market was how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.
Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” Tureci said.
Among the lessons she and her husband, BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin, learned along with their colleagues was “how important cooperation and collaboration is internationally.”
Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company, which has staff members from 60 countries, reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.
“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.
Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.
“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”
Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech vaccine themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated,” she said.
As BioNTech’s profile and value has catapulted during the pandemic, so has its value, providing funds the company can use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.
The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. It can apply the same principle to get the immune system to take on tumors.
“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.
Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said, “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”
For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure they deliver the vaccines governments have ordered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.
“It’s about the effort of many: our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” Tureci said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”
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