BioNTech “turning every stone” to scale up Covid-19 vaccine production, co-founder says

The makers of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are “turning every stone” to scale up production capacity as Europe continues to suffer from a deficit in vaccine supply. 

In an exclusive interview with CNN, BioNTech co-founder and chief medical officer Özlem Türeci said the company is “continuously reevaluating how the target we have already set could be even overperformed.”  

Despite certain limitations such as the fact that they “cannot train people very fast” the company is focusing on finding partners “who can compliment pieces of this pretty large network” of vaccine supply.  

The company is also being kept busy by the continuous need to test the robustness of their vaccine against new variants of the virus. 

Based on their analysis the current vaccine has been found to be effective against the variant first detected in the UK and the variant first detected in South Africa, with Türeci stressing that the company’s main priority is ascertaining “which variant is of real concern.”

A great deal of resources are directed into being “prepared for tomorrow in case such a variant of concern would occur: the processes with which we can adapt to a new variant,” Türeci added.

The company uses its “fast and adaptable” mRNA platform to exchange the old sequence against that of the new variant according to Türeci. Blueprint clinical trials whereby the company pre-discusses with regulators the switch in sequence, are also being deployed.  

Although emerging variants are something BioNTech has to take “seriously,” Türeci told CNN that there is “no reason for fear currently.”  

Türeci also spoke of how a “gender balanced team is one of the key success factors” in BioNTech’s work, boosting in particular the problem solving capabilities of the company. 

 “As scientists we are used — particularly because we have always worked in technology innovation — we are used to solve problems and unknowns in real time. And that was a strength which helped us along this way.”  

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has drawn praise from across the globe for its high effectiveness, with a peer reviewed study in Israel showing an effectiveness rate of 94% in preventing asymptomatic Covid-19. 

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that real-world evidence from the Israel Ministry of Health shows that two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine, its effectiveness was at least 97% in preventing symptomatic disease, hospitalizations and death. The analysis also found that the vaccine effectiveness was 94% in preventing asymptomatic Covid-19, where infections show no symptoms

“When we started our development last year in January, our aim was to make a difference for people worldwide and to help end this pandemic,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, said in the announcement. “One year after the declaration of a pandemic by the WHO, we now see that we are on the right track to accomplish our goals.”

See CNN’s exclusive interview: 

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