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 complement pieces of this pretty large network” of vaccine supply.
Based on their analysis, the current vaccine has been found to be effective against the variants first detected in the UK and South Africa, with Türeci stressing that the company’s priority is ascertaining “which variant is of real concern.”
Resources are being 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 genetic sequence of the old variant against that of the new one, 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.”
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.”