At least for Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer’s decision to pivot an entire company to focus on the coronavirus is obvious, one that has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations – and generated billions of dollars in sales from their vaccines. this year only. will recover.
It wasn’t such an obvious decision in early 2020, but when Moderna CEO Stefan Bansel and BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin started spinning their ships, they told CNBC about ‘a documentary released Friday on the vaccine. Told in interview. Caste.
“The night China shut down Wuhan, I’m like, ‘When was the last time I found out that a city was closed because of an infectious disease? Bansal recalled. “And what’s on my mind: what do the Chinese know that we don’t know?” “
Bansal said he was sweating at 4 a.m., realizing: “Damn, there’s going to be a pandemic like in 1918.”
For Sahin, he was reading a Lancet article at the end of January describing an epidemic in China.
“I did a lot of math, quick math, and realized it had already spread,” Sahin said. “And it was clear that it was already too late to stop the disease.”
But he was sure that BioNTech, which then focused primarily on personalized cancer treatments, might be able to do something. His company contacted Pfizer, he said, to offer to work on a vaccine for the new coronavirus using the same technology, messenger RNA, that they had previously teamed up to try to fight the flu.
“We had our first contact a few days after the project started,” Sahin said. “At the time, Pfizer was not yet interested.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla confirmed Sahin’s account, saying that in the first months of 2020 he was focused on keeping the company operating in China. But at the end of February, he said, he determined that Pfizer needed to work on a treatment and a vaccine.
“What’s the best way?” Borla said he asked his team.
Katherine Jansson, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, said she has evaluated all existing technologies, including protein-based vaccines and vaccines using viral vectors.
“They all have too few advantages and too many disadvantages,” she said.
But messenger RNA was a risk; It has never been used as a vaccine or approved medicine before.
“I struggled a bit with the decision,” Bouerla said. But after another meeting with the team, “they convinced me”.
Then Sahin called for the second time. The outbreak, by that time, was already in New York City, he said. Arriving at Jensen, he described the work BioNTech was already doing and asked if Pfizer would like to work together.
“And I said, Exactly,” Jenson recalls. “Let’s talk about this. “
In Moderna, messenger RNA was never the way to go; It was the technology around which the company was founded in 2010. But that didn’t mean the questions weren’t there.
“Even in March, there were voices that said vaccines were false hopes,” Moderna chairman Dr Stephen Hoge said. “It felt for a while that we had to defend the idea of even trying. “
“As we were thinking about how we got to Phase 1, what it would be like to prepare for a pandemic, the eyes of the world looked like they were looking at Moderna like this biotechnology… Trying to do?”, A said Hamilton Bennett, Senior Director of Vaccine Access and Partnerships at Moderna.
“It wasn’t until we moved from the WHO to this March notification that it was a global pandemic, it’s an emergency, I think people started to realize that we were trying to demonstrate our technology. You don’t play in the sandbox, ”Bennett said. “We are developing a vaccine that will stop the pandemic. “
The companies succeeded, becoming one of the greatest medical races in history. Here they remember how it happened.