Today, I had the opportunity to join a call organized by STAT News with the co-founders of BioNTech, the company behind the highly successful COVID vaccine. Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci are incredibly impressive people. Here were some of the highlights:
- BioNTech was working on cancer vaccines as COVID appeared, but after Ugur read early reports of COVID cases in China, they realized their technology was well suited to making a COVID vaccine
- Wuhan is one of the most heavily connected cities in China, perhaps explaining how the pandemic spread so quickly
- We can’t expect the vaccine rollout to go smoothly right at the beginning, but they are confident we’ll improve as we gain experience
- We are likely to get some data on asymptomatic infections amongst the vaccinated in February. (This may have implications for how long we have to wear masks, etc.)
- If we delay the 2nd dose of a COVID vaccine in order to get more people their first dose, we should avoid delaying by too much. Whether we delay is a risk/benefit calculation best left to governments.
- The new technology they’re most excited about is using immune mechanisms against cancer. They have a drug that’s within weeks of beginning testing.
These STAT Events are free and open to anyone. It was a fascinating call and I was honored to be able to ask a question to these incredible scientists (the answer is the last bullet point above). The recording of the meeting should go up on STAT’s website soon.