AFTER COVID-19 JAB, BIONTECH SEEKS TO DEVELOP ANTI-CANCER VACCINE
The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer, Frank Jordans reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband Ugur Sahin, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.
Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort “Project Lightspeed.”
As BioNTech’s profile has grown 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 US 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.
The same principle can be applied 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.
Within 11 months, Britain had authorized the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the US. 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 be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real-time,” Tureci told AP 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.