Science & Tech

Normal life back next winter, say vaccine creators

Positive data on BioNTech and U.S. partner Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine is an unlikely success for the married couple behind the German biotech firm, who have devoted their lives to harnessing the immune system against cancer.

Pfizer said on Monday said its experimental vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data from a large study.

Pfizer and BioNTech are the first drugmakers to show successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine. The companies said they have so far found no serious safety concerns and expect to seek U.S. emergency use authorization later this month.

The companies have priced the vaccine in the US at about $19.50 a dose for a two-dose course, and not promised — as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have — to make the vaccine available on a not-for-profit basis, provoking criticism from advocacy groups.

The companies have priced the vaccine in the US at about $19.50 a dose for a two-dose course, and not promised — as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have — to make the vaccine available on a not-for-profit basis, provoking criticism from advocacy groups.

The BioNTech story took a twist when Sahin in January came across a scientific paper on a new coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan and it struck him how small the step was from anti-cancer mRNA drugs to mRNA-based viral vaccines.

BioNTech quickly assigned about 500 staff to project “light speed” to work on several possible compounds, winning pharma giant Pfizer and Chinese drugmaker Fosun as partners in March.

After the announcement of the world’s first effective vaccine came on Monday, Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, suggested life could be back to normal by spring.

“I am probably the first guy to say that, but I will say that with some confidence,” he said.

However, Prof Sahin said it would take longer.

If everything continued to go well, he said, the vaccine would begin to be delivered at the “end of this year, beginning of next year”.

The goal was to deliver more than 300 million doses worldwide by next April, he said, which “could allow us to only start to make an impact”.

He said the bigger impact would happen later, adding: “Summer will help us because the infection rate will go down in the summer and what is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate until or before autumn/winter next year.”

Prof Sahin said it was essential that all immunisation programmes were completed before next autumn.

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