Uğur Şahin is a scientist at coronary heart: the cofounder and CEO of BioNTech would reasonably be within the lab than nearly anyplace else. On the day he married his spouse, fellow BioNTech cofounder Özlem Türeci, the 2 went again to work after the nuptials. (Türeci is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.)
The mild-mannered Turkish immigrant, who moved to Germany along with his mother and father at age 4, has extra the vibe of a faculty professor than the high-powered CEO of a $27 billion market cap firm. In actual fact he’s a professor — he has been one on the College of Mainz for greater than 20 years. He nonetheless bikes to work on a regular basis from his condo in Mainz as a result of he and his spouse don’t personal a automobile, and he can nonetheless usually be present in his firm’s laboratories. However his firm’s partnership with Pfizer has turned BioNTech into one of the vital vital biotechs on the planet, due to the co-development of the primary approved vaccine towards Covid-19. That success has made Şahin a billionaire, as properly, with a internet value of $4.8 billion.
The corporate, whose vaccine has already been administered to hundreds of thousands, estimates that it may manufacture 2.5 billion doses of the vaccine by the tip of this yr — sufficient to guard greater than 15% of the world from the lethal illness. All of this has accelerated the expansion of the biotech firm. It now has greater than 1,900 staff over two continents, 600 of whom have been employed since 2019; revenues, in the meantime, elevated practically 350% in 2020 in comparison with the earlier yr. Its projected revenues from Covid-19 vaccines in 2021 is $11.5 billion.
The triumph of the Covid-19 vaccine, Şahin says, is “motivating us to make use of the success to additional speed up our different applications.”
Right here’s what this scientist CEO is dreaming up subsequent:
Covid Vaccines 2.0
The BioNTech-Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine has been administered to greater than 200 million folks in over 65 nations — however the firms plan to maintain tweaking and testing the vaccine. Although the tip of the pandemic could also be in sight, the rising variety of Covid-19 variants is a significant impediment to that purpose. A few of these variants have already been proven to be extra contagious, extra lethal, and fewer impacted by vaccines. Whereas the BioNTech vaccine is efficient towards the B.1.1.7 variant that was first found within the U.Okay., it might not be as potent towards the B.1.351 variant that’s now dominating South Africa. In its annual report, BioNTech mentioned that it plans to do medical trials to check its vaccine towards totally different variants, and it might develop new variations of its vaccine which are extra particular to them. The corporate can be whether or not or not a 3rd booster shot 6-12 months after the second dose of the vaccine can improve immunity. “We already know that our vaccine is stopping hospitalization and stopping demise in folks,” Şahin says, “that is in fact an exquisite, great accomplishment.”
Proper now the vaccine is just approved within the U.S. and different nations for folks ages 16 and up, however a current research confirmed that the vaccine is 100% efficient at stopping illness in adolescents ages 12-15 years previous. A research in even youthful youngsters continues to be ongoing.
The scientists additionally plan to check extra secure formulation of the at the moment fragile mRNA vaccine that must be saved at low temperatures. Along with growing new, extra strong variations of the vaccine, they’re additionally a novel means of transporting it: by freeze-drying it. If profitable, this might imply increasing the rollout of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to low-income nations with much less infrastructure.
Combating HIV And Tuberculosis
Covid-19 isn’t the one virus that BioNTech is battling. In 2019, BioNTech introduced a $55 million partnership with the Invoice and Melinda Gates Basis to develop new remedies for HIV and tuberculosis. The HIV vaccine at the moment entails utilizing mRNA to prime T cells inside the physique to struggle the virus whether it is encountered. Up to now, these remedies are nonetheless in preclinical levels.
New Vaccines To Deal with Most cancers
BioNTech isn’t Şahin’s first biotech firm. That was Ganymed Prescription drugs, which he cofounded with Türeci to develop new most cancers remedies. The corporate was offered to Japanese pharma firm Astellas in 2016 for $1.4 billion. However Şahin’s expertise with most cancers sufferers as an oncologist stored him motivated to seek out higher most cancers remedies. Earlier than the pandemic, BioNTech’s analysis was centered on how the immune system interacts with most cancers. When he first started most cancers analysis, Şahin mentioned, “a key query for us was why so many most cancers remedies are failing, and what’s the root trigger?”
One of many firm’s most superior merchandise is a customized most cancers vaccine. It’s developed utilizing most cancers tissue samples from a affected person, figuring out the distinct genetic markers in that most cancers, and utilizing mRNA to stimulate the affected person’s immune response into attacking these markets. In essence: mRNA trains your individual immune system to kill the precise most cancers in your physique.
Şahin says that the corporate is at the moment in section 2 medical trials with two of its cancer-fighting vaccines. “There may be a big probability that we get our first most cancers mRNA merchandise into submitting for approval in 2023 or 2024,” he says.
A Combo Strategy: Gene Remedy and mRNA
Along with growing new remedies, Şahin’s firm can be exploring methods to spice up the effectiveness of most cancers medicines which are at the moment available on the market. One among these is CAR-T cell remedy, which offers one other method to prepare a affected person’s immune system to assault most cancers. But it surely’s not all the time profitable, for causes nonetheless unknown. To make it simpler, BioNTech is growing an mRNA booster that can be utilized together with CAR-T cell remedy to supply extra modified T cells inside the physique which are looking out for extra particular most cancers targets. One main benefit of that is that it has the potential to deal with forms of most cancers which are troublesome to assault with CAR-T remedy by itself. “We’re opening the door for the primary mixture therapies of a gene remedy and an mRNA,” Şahin says. “This can be a fully new strategy.”
A few of these new mRNA remedies are years away — however within the meantime, enterprise continues to be thriving and the corporate continues to ink offers with pharma giants together with Genentech and Sanofi. As for Şahin, like a real scientist, what he’s trying ahead to is the information that emerges over the following few months to information his firm’s future. “The following two years might be extraordinarily informative,” he says.