Scientist Behind Pfizer Vaccine Plans To Use Same Technique To Treat Cancer
The scientist behind the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says the technology behind it will soon be used to fight cancer.
Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumours when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.
In a report by The Daily Mail, over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort ‘Project Lightspeed.’
Within 11 months, Britain had authorised the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States. Tens of millions of people worldwide have received the shot since December.
Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company that had yet to get a product to market was how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.
Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China ‘to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,’ Tureci said.
As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, providing funds the company can use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.
The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors.
‘We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,’ said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer.
Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said ‘that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.’