publication date: Feb. 12, 2021

Uğur Şahin: Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA coronavirus vaccine is “fastest vaccine developed and approved in medical history”

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. A full list of our coverage is available here.

When Uğur Şahin and his wife Özlem Türeci founded their company, BioNTech, in 2008, they set out to explore novel modalities for treating cancer—including messenger ribonucleic acid, a well-understood single-stranded molecule featured in most Biology 101 textbooks.

Alas, at the time, researchers hadn’t worked out how to use mRNA in human beings. Beyond the process of encoding specific protein-building instructions into the molecule, they needed to ensure that the non-native chains of nucleotides wouldn’t be dismantled by the body’s defenses before the mRNA could do what it was designed to do.

“When we started working on mRNA vaccines about 20 years ago, we realized that established mRNA vaccine vectors had a relatively poor potency, not allowing [the vaccine] to induce strong immune responses if applied directly in vivo,” Şahin, CEO of BioNTech, said Feb. 3 in a keynote address at the American Association for Cancer Research’s virtual COVID-19 and Cancer meeting.

“One guiding principle of our work was to improve the potency of mRNA vaccines by optimizing vaccine antigen expression directly into dendritic cells, which are clear regulators of adaptive immunity.”

On Dec. 11, BioNTech, in collaboration with Pfizer, received the first FDA emergency use authorization for its mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease in clinical trials participants. Seven days later, FDA granted another EUA for a similar mRNA vaccine by Moderna.

It was a feat … Continue reading Uğur Şahin: Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA coronavirus vaccine is “fastest vaccine developed and approved in medical history”

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