Sir Andrew Pollard talks to Uğur Şahin. Şahin is a German oncologist and immunologist. He is the co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, which developed one of the major COVID-19 vaccines.
Sir Andrew Pollard talks to Uğur Şahin. Şahin is a German oncologist and immunologist. He is the co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, which developed with US company Pfizer the hugely successful Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Uğur has been intimately involved in the development of RNA technology through his company BioNTech and then made a huge contribution to the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.
Uğur chats with Andrew about his early life in Germany, his love of mathematics and his experiences at Medical School. A formative period was training as an oncologist, that led him into an interest in cancer vaccines and cancer immunotherapy.
They discuss the basics of vaccines for cancer treatment in particular how RNA vaccines work. Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a molecule that is present in the majority of living organisms and viruses. Unlike a normal vaccine, RNA vaccines work by introducing an mRNA sequence (the molecule which tells cells what to build) which is coded for a disease specific antigen, once produced within the body, the antigen is recognised by the immune system, preparing it to fight the real thing.
The two chat around the science of testing how to improve the potency of the mRNA, and hence make a better vaccine. They also discuss how this technology could in the future be used to treat cancer.
Uğur Şahin then talks about the work done in very early 2020 by his company to develop an mRNA-based vaccine against COVID-19. For its development, BioNTech collaborated with American company Pfizer to carry out clinical trials, logistics, and manufacturing. The hugely successful Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was the result and Uğur states that there has now been over 4 billion doses produced, saving lives around the world.
The discussion ends with Andrew Pollard asking for Uğur Şahin's thoughts on the future for applying these vaccine techniques to cancer therapies and for tackling global infectious diseases.