Over a month and a half before the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin met with his wife, BioNTech’s co-founder and chief medical officer Özlem Türeci, and together they agreed to redirect most of the company’s resources to developing a vaccine. Up until that point, BioNTech was little-known internationally and primarily focused on developing novel cancer treatments. The founders were confident in the potential of their mRNA technology, which they knew could trigger a powerful immune response. That confidence wasn’t necessarily shared by the broader medical community. No mRNA vaccine or treatment had ever been approved before. But the couple’s timely breakthrough was actually decades in the making. CNBC spoke with Şahin and Türeci about how they, along with Pfizer, created a Covid-19 vaccine using mRNA.
This commentary concerns a video showing aspects of the development of MRNA vaccines. It is all about Pfizer’s German partner, BioNtech, which manufactures the vaccine. They have produced the bulk of the worlds mRNA vaccines, due to Pfizer‘s great financial strength and experience in marketing.
Moderna, a wholly American company and by comparison a small fry, has also been doing decades of work with mRNA platform technology, mainly on cancer treatment.
With $800 million from the U.S. government, Moderna was able to scale up their manufacturing process and deliver a vaccine, approved by the FDA, shortly after Pfizer did so.
These vaccines were made possible by two technical advances.
The first advance was in substituting pseudouridine for uridine in the mRNA, so that the target cells natural defenses would not destroy it. The second involves coating the mRNA with a nano size particle to get it into the target cell.
Each of these advances will probably receive a Nobel prize, and is an elegant example of the sophistication of modern biotechnology.