Husband and wife team behind Pfizer-BioNTech COVID shot insist pandemic ISN’T over

Husband and wife team behind Pfizer-BioNTech COVID shot insist pandemic ISN'T over 2
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The husband-and-wife duo behind BioNTech, the German firm that joined Pfizer to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine, said they are about to start testing a new shot that is designed to create longer lasting immunization. 

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Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci made their remarks during a trip to Pfizer’s United States headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., according to the Boston Globe. 

The couple founded BioNTech in 2008 and count the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of their major investors.  

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Sahin told the newspaper: ‘This virus will stay with us for many years, and we are still in the pandemic phase of this outbreak. So all of the predictions that the pandemic will [soon] be over are just not true.’

In total, the pair are developing three new shots with clinical trials set to being over the next six months. 

Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci founded BioNTech in 2008 and count the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of their major investors

Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci founded BioNTech in 2008 and count the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of their major investors

In total, BioNTech is developing three new shots with clinical trials set to being over the next six months

In total, BioNTech is developing three new shots with clinical trials set to being over the next six months

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In September, the US and Europe approved the use of a new booster shot aimed at targeting the Omicron variant. The booster is made by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as their competitor Moderna. 

Also in September: President Joe Biden told CBS News’ ’60 Minutes’ that ‘the pandemic is over.’ 

‘We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks,’ he said. ‘Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing.’

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed that, saying the world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic his most optimistic outlook yet on the years-long health crisis.

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‘We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,’ he said. 

President Joe Biden declared the COVID-19 pandemic is 'over' in an interview with CBS News

President Joe Biden declared the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘over’ in an interview with CBS News

In September, the US and Europe approved the use of a new booster shot aimed at targeting the Omicron variant

In September, the US and Europe approved the use of a new booster shot aimed at targeting the Omicron variant

Pfizer announced in July that the company’s vaccine Comirnaty brought in $8.85 billion in sales, and the treatment Paxlovid added another $8.12 billion as company revenue totaled $27.74 billion.

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Pfizer maintained its outlook for full-year Comirnaty sales of approximately $32 billion and Paxlovid sales of about $22 billion.

Comirnaty has been, by far, the most popular of the four vaccines approved for use in the United States. More than 355 million doses of the two-shot vaccine have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sahin told the Globe that one of the new vaccines will help the recipient’s antibodies attack the virus in a ‘more prominent fashion.’

Husband and wife Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci are the couple behind the COVID-19 vaccine that changed the world

Husband and wife Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci are the couple behind the COVID-19 vaccine that changed the world

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Pfizer's US campus in the Osborn Triangle close to Harvard University

Pfizer’s US campus in the Osborn Triangle close to Harvard University 

Another he said would aid in stimulating a person’s T cell response. The T cell is an area of the immune system that fights infections already in the body. 

The final one, which is referred to by the Globe as the company’s ‘most ambitious,’ is aimed at helping a person’s immune system from fighting COVID-19 strains that we don’t even know about. 

Tureci told the Globe: ‘We will continue to monitor any upcoming new variants. We have an AI [artificial intelligence] based early warning system with which we screen upcoming variants.’   

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Born in Turkey, Sahin was raised in Germany, where his parents worked in a Ford factory. Trained as a doctor, Sahin became a professor and researcher focused on immunotherapy.

He worked at teaching hospitals in Cologne and the south western city of Homburg, where he met immunologist Tuereci during his early academic career. Medical research and oncology became a shared passion. 

Tuereci, the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany, once said in an interview that even on the day of their wedding, both made time for lab work.

Together they honed in on the immune system as a potential ally in the fight against cancer and tried to address the unique genetic makeup of each tumor.

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The pair founded BioNTech in 2008, with the aim of pursuing a much broader range of cancer immunotherapy tools. 

Pfizer books the vast majority of revenue from Comirnaty and splits profit, as well as the cost to make and distribute the vaccine, with development partner BioNTech

Pfizer books the vast majority of revenue from Comirnaty and splits profit, as well as the cost to make and distribute the vaccine, with development partner BioNTech

The COVID-19 vaccine debuted in late 2020 and became Pfizer’s top-selling product by last year’s second quarter, before children started receiving the preventive shots and adults began receiving booster doses.

Pfizer books the vast majority of revenue from Comirnaty and splits profit, as well as the cost to make and distribute the vaccine, with development partner BioNTech.

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Comirnaty and Paxlovid have become key revenue drivers for Pfizer and have helped the pharmaceutical giant build a cash stockpile. 

In May, Pfizer announced plans to start putting some of that stockpile to use. 

It said it would spend $11.6 billion in cash to buy the remaining portion of migraine treatment developer Biohaven Pharmaceutical that it does not already own.

While back in June, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they signed a $3.2 billion deal with the U.S. government for 105 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, which could be delivered as soon as later this summer.

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The deal includes supplies of a retooled Omicron-adapted vaccine, pending regulatory clearance, according to Pfizer.

The average price per dose in the deal is over $30, a more than 50% increase from the $19.50 per dose the U.S. government paid in its initial contract with Pfizer.   

The US government also has the option to purchase up to 195 million additional doses, bringing the total number of potential doses to 300 million, the companies said.

The contract will boost 2022 vaccine sales for Pfizer and BioNTech, which share profits from the shots. 

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Pfizer has forecast COVID-19 vaccine sales of $32 billion this year. Analysts, on average, have forecast 2022 sales of around $33.6 billion for the shots.

The US government has distributed close to 450 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the United States since it was first authorized in December 2020, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Over 350 million of those doses have been administered.

Because the Biden administration was unable to line up more COVID-19 funding from Congress earlier this month, it was forced to reallocate $10 billion of existing funding to pay for additional vaccines and treatments.

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According to HHS, the money to pay for doses in this new contract comes from that funding.

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