BioNTech CEO says vaccine upgrade on the cards, ready to move quickly

  • He says the vaccine can be quickly redesigned if needed
  • Omicron says it should require a reformulated vaccine at some point
  • CEO: Any production expansion requires practical help from BioNTech

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the Omicron variant, CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters at the upcoming Reuters conference on Thursday, and the next few weeks will show how urgent an upgrade is needed. Friday.

Shaheen said people should continue to look for the stable shot, which was developed with Pfizer (PFE.N), as it is very likely to continue to protect against severe disease.

“I think in principle that in a certain period of time we will need a new vaccine against this new alternative. The question is to what extent should it be available,” Shaheen said.

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He reiterated that the product could be re-launched in about 100 days, and said a redesign was already underway. But any confirmation of the ring’s current protection against severe disease could buy developers time to take a more measured approach.

If the third booster injection continues to prevent the disease at an average of 85-90%, he said, “we will have more time to adapt a vaccine.”

Together, Germany’s BioNTech and Pfizer have produced one of the first vaccines against COVID-19, with more than two billion doses already given to protect people around the world.

There are concerns that the vaccines may not work well against the Omicron variant that emerged last month.

Shaheen reiterated his view, which came in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, that the new alternative might infect the vaccinated people, but would likely prevent the need for hospital care. Read more

“We expect this new species to evolve as an antibody to escape,” Shaheen said. “This means that this variant may be able to infect the vaccine.”

“We expect that infected people who have been vaccinated will remain protected from severe disease,” Shaheen added.

The CEO of BioNTech, whose work until the emergence of the COVID-19 coronavirus in 2020 was focused on cancer, said a new alternative appeared sooner than he expected.

A general view of the BioNTech building where production of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine began in Marburg, Germany, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Fabian Beemer

“This highly mutated virus came earlier than I expected. I was expecting it sometime next year and it’s already with us.”

Shaheen also said mutations in the virus mean annual vaccinations are likely to be the norm, as is the case with seasonal flu.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first discovered in South Africa last month and has been monitored in at least two dozen countries. It emerged at a time when parts of Europe were already battling a wave of delta-type infections.

When asked how contagious the Omicron variant is, Ozlem Tureci, chief medical officer and co-founder of BioNTech, said the next days or weeks will show.

BioNTech has been criticized for slow deployment of vaccine deliveries in low-income countries. CEO Shaheen said the planned vaccine production network in Africa would eventually pass to local ownership and control. Read more

He added, “Our most important concern is ensuring that quality is established. How this can be ensured when we transfer our technology, and when we transfer ownership as well, is something we are discussing at the moment.”

But vaccine patents should not be relinquished, as US President Joe Biden has suggested, because any transfer of knowledge would require BioNTech’s hands-on involvement.

Shaheen said that even the most experienced manufacturing contractors needed on-site supervision from BioNTech employees to produce consistent quality.

“It’s not that we want to participate, we have to participate.

“I am not against giving up patents,” he added. “I am looking for solutions.”

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(Reporting by Ludwig Berger and Josephine Mason) Editing by Keith Weir, Alexander Smith and Catherine Evans

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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