Leading German biotechnology company BioNTech plans to augment vaccine equity by enabling people across the world to develop their own vaccines through knowledge and technology transfer.
This was announced virtually at a plenary session at World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2022 by
BioNTech founders and husband and wife Prof Ugur Sahin and Prof Özlem Türeci.
Their concept of “BioNtainers”, are containers that can be shipped anywhere and can help with developing vaccines not only for Covid-19 but other diseases as well.
Developing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, strategies to address vaccine inequity, the challenges of technology transfer, and the progress on vaccines for other diseases were some of the topics discussed in the session.
Pressing on the issue of vaccine equity, the BioNTech founders shared that when they saw the inequality in vaccine distribution and availability in the developing world, especially countries in Africa, they felt obliged to address this with the same resolve they had for the development of a vaccine in the first place.
With the help of the World Health Organisation, Prof Tureci and Prof Sahin have identified three potential sites in Africa, and the BioNtainers will be operating there soon.
The duo also discussed the challenges of technology transfer and stressed the importance of collaboration and commitment to ensure that the benefits of these technologies are translated and accessible to everyone. Looking to the future, they hope to develop effective treatment solutions for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, and other deadly diseases, and ensure their availability to people worldwide.
Moderated by BBC journalist Stephen Sackur, the discussion started with Prof Sahin recounting some of their earliest reactions to news of the virus spreading around the world. “We realised early on that the outbreak in Wuhan would become a global threat and a global pandemic,” he said.
According to Prof Sahin, there were two main factors behind their success in developing the first mRNA vaccine to treat Covid-19: “One was that we had new technology, the mRNA, that allows us to make a vaccine extremely quickly. The second aspect was that we knew that our technology can induce extremely strong immune responses, and that is what you need in a pandemic outbreak situation - a technology that can allow you to come up with a vaccine while the pandemic is ongoing.”
The speakers shared how all the stakeholders involved in vaccine development came together and went beyond their standard practices to roll out the vaccine as quickly as possible, including preparing for the second and third phases of trials while awaiting results from the first.
Prof Türeci said: “A reason why we could be fast was that all stakeholders had the same joint sense of urgency. For example, regulators reacted promptly, and we had rolling submissions which they worked on even before having the full data sets, and these aspects came together and allowed us to be the first, whilst not cutting any corners.”
However Prof Türeci shared that this sense of urgency in developing vaccines cannot be the new normal as Covid-19 presented an extraordinary situation, where everyone went to extreme lengths, and which might not be possible to replicate in normal conditions.
Prof Sahin also touched on the safety features of the mRNA vaccine and discussed how their technology works, saying: “A great aspect of mRNA is that after it fulfills its function, it is completely degraded so that it disappears from the cells, and this gave us confidence in a technology that we can use to instruct our immune system.”
He also touched on how, as with any introduction of new technology, they faced hesitation in the beginning and credited the scientific community and digital media for helping educate people about the safety of their vaccine and increasing acceptability in populations worldwide.
Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) on Thursday announced the top four winners of its 2022 Innovation Competitions, comprising two categories; Spark (early-stage startups) and Booster (established startups looking to scale) during the closing ceremony.
In the Spark category, Rea Diagnostics won the grand prize of $5,000. In the Booster Category, TADA Medical AB from Sweden was granted the grand prize of $10,000. In addition to the cash prize winners, two other health innovation startups, Neurosoft Bioelectronics from Switzerland (in the Spark Category), and Smiletronix from Spain (in the Booster Category) were announced as the winners of the WISH-sponsored trips to the Web Summit 2022, set to take place in Lisbon, Portugal from November 1-4.

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