BioNTech co-founder Ozlem Tureci says Covid will be with us for years to come

LONDON – The co-founder and chief medical officer of BioNTech, the German company that worked with Pfizer to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, told CNBC that the world should “not live in fear” of the virus.

“Covid will get manageable. It has already started to get manageable,” said Dr. Ozlem Tureci on the latest episode of “The CNBC Conversation”.

However, she added that we “need to return to a new normal because this virus will be with us for a few more years”.

When asked about concerns about new coronavirus variants, she said BioNTech “is continuously evaluating these upcoming variants and there will be more”.

“For all of these variants currently in circulation, it appears that boosters alone, which bring the dwindling immune responses back to high levels, are appropriate and protect,” she said.

“However, we have to continue screening, because there could be variants for which this is not the case. And for this we have a second pillar, namely that we prepare ourselves to be quick and quick if we have to adapt. ”To a variant … And we do these test runs, not alone, together with the supervisory authorities so that they can also be prepared for the potential need to switch, “Tureci told CNBC.

In 2008, Tureci founded the Germany-based company BioNTech together with her husband, CEO Ugur Sahin. She said more data would be needed to point the way out of the pandemic, but she envisioned future boosters being given “every 12 or every 18 months”.

Covid vaccination in less than a year

The main focus of the company was on “pioneering individualized immunotherapies” for cancer medicine and the use of its mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology, which stimulates the body’s own immune response. It is also working on developing a vaccine against malaria.

“So we already had the science and knowledge of immune mechanisms and how they can be used against viruses and we could use that,” said Tureci.

“And the other pillar of our answer was our technology, the mRNA technology that enables [it] to be used as a vaccine format, which means it [it] to communicate with the immune system and teach it to react with great precision against this new enemy. ”

“And this technology was already mature because we had used it in clinical studies on cancer patients. We knew how to do clinical trials with it, treat people with it, and set up a manufacturing process, ”she adds.

Lessons learned

Thanks to his experience, the company was able to develop a vaccine in less than a year.

When asked if this could be the case for all other vaccines in the future, Tureci told CNBC that there were “high priorities needed to address this global threat” but that there were lessons that could be learned and moved forward .

“I think there are a few things that, if we carry them over to future drug developments, can help us be faster. Also, for example, with non-pandemic infections, but also with cancer and autoimmune diseases, ”she said.

Natural gender ratio

With the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, which is also led by women scientists, Tureci considers such high-profile examples of gender balance in science to be “very important” and was one of the reasons for the success of BioNTech.

“I really believe that one of the secrets of why we are successful as a team and as a company is that we are a balanced team. Almost half of our workforce is female and half of our employee teams in top management are female, “she said.

“What I also realize is that we don’t recruit women in our teams because we want to meet every gender quota, that goes without saying … And it just turns out that half of them are women,” she continued .

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