BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin on mRNA-Technology: “We have opened the door to a new pharmaceutical world”


THE MIRROR: Mr. Șahin, until recently, BioNTech had to ask for money from investors. Thanks to your COVID-19 vaccine, you now have income for drug research. To what extent will this drive your drug development?

Falcon: We expected to launch our first product in 2023 as soon as possible. The fact that this success has come much sooner than expected gives us a great opportunity to scale our plans to a higher dimension. With the vaccine, we have opened the door to a new pharmaceutical world. The COVID-19 vaccine is only the first in this class of drugs.

THE MIRROR: Which of your mRNA drugs could hit the market later?

Falcon: Our vision is to establish an individualized cancer drug that is tailored to each patient and the genetic characteristics of their tumor. This is something that had not been done until now. Late last year, we started a study in which patients with colon cancer are tested after surgery to determine if they still have residual tumor cells. If they do, they receive a personalized mRNA vaccine or a control drug, a placebo. We now want to significantly accelerate this study. And we are considering conducting a similar study on breast cancer. In the area of ​​cancer, we are developing more than 20 candidates for different drugs.

THE MIRROR: What does your success mean for the industry?

Falcon: With mRNA we have opened the door to a new pharmaceutical world. This will cause a boom. We are confident we will see a major uptake in vaccines against infectious diseases like the flu in the coming years. We believe that many vaccines against infectious diseases can become mRNA and therefore be more efficient or even possible.

THE MIRROR: As a relatively small company, can you oppose huge pharmaceutical companies if they also operate in mRNA technology?

Falcon: One hundred percent.

THE MIRROR: What makes you so sure?

Falcon: We have invested 20 years in basic research. Big Pharma will make mRNA, but think in terms of mRNA and beyond. This gives us a good start.

THE MIRROR: Pfizer, which has been your vaccine partner so far, wants to develop mRNA-based drugs without you in the future. How do you feel about it?

Falcon: I can’t comment on that. Everyone has the right to do whatever they want. This applies to both our partners and ourselves. We have invested 20 years in developing this technology, we rely on our know-how and we know what our patents cover.

THE MIRROR: Is the German business landscape ready enough for companies like BioNTech or CureVac to follow international competition?

Falcon: I think so. Germany has excellent training structures. We benefit from first class universities in the Rhine-Main region. And we benefit from the excellent engineering experience. We managed to establish a vaccine factory in Marburg in a few months.

THE MIRROR: And where are the shortcomings?

Falcon: The question is: How can Germany use the back wind we currently have of our development and the fact that there are already several mRNA companies and suppliers in Germany to establish a completely new industry? Of course, the state can give It is not about subsidies and infrastructure support for us, but to strategically develop this promising field.

THE MIRROR: When do you expect mRNA technology to be established in medicine?

Falcon: The first approved products are already here. The next drug could arrive next year and a half. Then two or three more will come, then five, and then 10. And then it will fire. I predict that within 15 years, a third of all recently approved drugs will be based on mRNA technology.

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