The whole scientific community is a superhero

March 30, 2021

The 2019 Mustafa prize laureate, who has developed the successful BioNTech-Pfizer Coronavirus vaccine, in an interview with DW explains how they will respond to the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant.

MSTF Media reports:

As concerns are mounting that the novel Coronavirus strain spreading rapidly across the UK might render ineffective the existing COVID-19 vaccines such as BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech and the 2019 Mustafa Prize laureate, in a recent interview with German Deutsche Welle elucidates how they will cope with this new challenge.

Sahin expressed hope that the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine will “ease the hospitalization of elderly people already within the next few months.”

“We also expect that once additional vaccine suppliers will get approvals, we will be able to produce a sufficient amount of vaccine doses and be able to reach a sufficient immunization rate of between 60 to 70%. This could help us control the pandemic before the next winter of 2021-2022,” he added.

Asked if his vaccine is efficient against the new, more contagious variant of COVID-19, he said they do not know the answer yet because they have not tested it, adding that “in the next two weeks” they will get the final results concerning this issue.

“Scientifically, the likelihood is high that [the vaccine will still work] because even though this variant has multiple mutations, only 1% of the relevant protein has changed. That means 99% are still the same, and we know that the immune response that our vaccine use is attacking this protein from multiple sides,” Sahin continued.

Asked how long the development of a new vaccine against the new Coronavirus variant would take, if need be, Sahin replied: “Technically, we can produce a new vaccine in about six weeks,” adding that “the development would most likely take longer because we would have to show for the new vaccine against the new variant that it produces immune responses.”

“We would have to discuss with the authorities whether they would accept such a change of the vaccine. This is a scientific and medical discussion. But I am confident that if there is a need for a change, that the technology which we are using, the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, could deliver the change,” Mustafa Prize laureate continued.

Answering the interviewer’s question concerning the “unfair” distribution of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine—accessibility of this vaccine in industrialized countries and its unavailability in developing countries—Sahin said: “No, I don’t think this is true. In the last weeks, we have seen approvals in more than 40 countries, including in economically emerging countries … We are really interested in making our vaccines available, globally.”

Asked how it feels now that he and his wife Özlem Türeci, Chief Medical Officer at BioNTech, have been successful in developing a vaccine against COVID-19, he replied: “We are extremely focused. This is what we have been doing for more than 20 years. It is our research. It is the way we deal with scientific and medical challenges and of course we know that people pay a lot of attention to what we do. But we don’t see it as something personal.”

“We see that our work is important. We are not alone. We are working together with a world class team here in Mainz … We have so much support by many, many other companies that we don’t feel alone and that we can take care of this big challenge together as a team,” he noted.

Responding to the interviewer’s remark; “You are scientific superheroes,” Sahin said: “We are scientists. And the science we did was important. But we were not alone in developing this science.”

“I think the whole scientific community is a superhero and it should really be regarded, not as a single event, but as an investment into research by so many different scientists who have contributed until this is accomplished,” Sahin emphasized.

Ugur Sahin was awarded the 2019 Mustafa Prize in Life & Medical Science and Technology for his achievements in “Development and Clinical Testing of mRNA-based Cancer Vaccines that are Tailored to the Mutation Profile of a Cancer Patient.”

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