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Pfizer – BioNTech: A Covid-19 vaccine with Greek and Turkish background

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech on Monday became the first drugmakers to show successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine. The companies said the vaccine was more than 90% effective and they have so far found no serious safety concerns, priming it for possible speedy regulatory approvals.

The announcement on Monday filled millions around the globe with hope that the pandemic nightmare could be over in foreseeable time.

An interesting aspect of the vaccine development is the Greek and Turkish background.

CEO and chairman of Pfizer is Albert Bourla, born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, in a Jewish family. He earned his doctorate in the biotechnology of reproduction at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki’s Veterinary School. He left Greece with his wife when he was 34.

He joined Pfizer in 1993 and has held several executive roles across Pfizer’s divisions, including Animal Health, the Vaccines, Oncology and Consumer Healthcare business, and Pfizer Innovative Health.

Bourla became Pfizer’s chief operating officer (COO) on January 1, 2018, and was promoted to the chief executive officer (CEO) role in October 2018.

In 2020, 58-year-old Bourla pushed for aggressive timelines in Pfizer’s development of a possible vaccine against COVID-19. He determined production of a potential vaccine would begin, at risk, while awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In late July 2020, the company was among top developers of a potential vaccine, in partnership with BioNTech, as they entered late-stage trials with mRNA, BNT162b2.

The German immuno-oncology company, BioNTech was co-founded in 2008 by the married scientists of Turkish origin with migration background Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci and an Austrian oncologist Christoph Huber.

The company originally set out to develop new types of immunotherapy against cancer, modifying patients’ T cells to target cancer-specific antigens.

When news of the coronavirus first surfaced at the start of the year, BioNTech, which employs 1,300 people, was quick to reallocate its resources. CEO Sahin told Germany’s Manager Magazin that when he read about the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in January, he told his wife that “in April they’ll have to shut the schools here”.

By March, BioNTech company had already developed 20 candidates for a vaccine, of which it would go on to test five for immune reactions in a research programme accompanied by 500 scientists called Lightspeed.

Sahin said in an interview in late October that the company could have managed to develop a vaccine on its own, but it would have struggled with the challenge of distribution.

Pfizer, which has collaborated with BioNTech on flu vaccines since 2018, paid $185m upfront toward the development of the coronavirus vaccine. It will release another $563m when the development is complete.

Monday’s milestone of interim results showing 90% efficacy is a triumph for Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s scientific method. Their vaccine pioneers an entirely new technology that involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code in order to train the immune system, noted the Guardian that has also the story on Sahin and Tureci.

Now people in both countries are proud of their scientists.

More on the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech here.

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One comment

  1. CHrysostomos Vassili

    What does it matter who invented this vaccine, whether they are Greek, Turkish, American or green little martian people, or what does it matter, who went to which university/school, and if they sat there exams or not, the point is these people from different backgrounds and religions have created hope and possible solution to this horrible virus. We should be praising them, not criticising them because of their cultural backgrounds and or religions.

    THIS IS NOT ABOUT GREEK OR USA OR TURKISH PRIDE, its about being human and looking at any such achievement as aiding humanity, and not aiding national egos.

    Even in such a time of hope brought to us by such great people all from different backgrounds and nations and religions, there is a tug of war, of, it was Turkish or Greek inventers, or others, WHAT IS WRONG WITH SUCH PEOPLE WHO MAKE SUCH STUPID CLAIMS/REMARKS, shame on you, thank God that such people may have been able to possibly find solutions to aid humanity, be thankful, of what they achieved and not what their cultural backgrounds are.

    There are Russians, Germans, French, Italian, Israeli, British, USA, Turkish, Greek claims of finding the vaccines each one finding its own vaccine, all trying to claim their nationalistic glory, instead of respecting their role in serving humanity universally.

    PLEASE STOP, this is not a football match where each have to chose a side to support, this is to do with saving lives, saving humanity and there should be a common and unified roll play amongst all who have found a vaccine in many different countries, please stop thinking of your NATIONALITY, unite to better serve humanity, do not segregate so as to boost your egos and national pride, that is an ugly side to humanity, be virtuous and act with humanity, claim your part in history by being able to one day to say to your children and grandchildren WE ALL UNITED FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, UNDER ONE ROOF, ONE GOAL, TOGETHER TO SAVE ALL OF MAN KIND, that is a legacy which will live on in history.

    NO one remembers arguments of WE WE WE , UNITE, save man kind and then claim your glory and feel the global pride of all man kind for doing so, teach our children and grandchildren true and real humanity, so they can follow by example