How BioNTech went from a little-known biotech company to creating the Covid vaccine
It was Jan. 24, 2020 when BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin knew that Covid-19 was likely to become a global pandemic.
Though it was over a month and a half before the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic, Sahin met with his wife, BioNTech’s co-founder and chief medical officer Özlem Türeci. Together, they agreed to redirect most of the company’s resources to developing a vaccine.
“He approached me and explained his thoughts and his his fears,” Türeci said. “And it was immediately clear to both of us that the technology we had, and which we had already clinically developed, that could help to ensure a rapid response.”
Up until that point, BioNTech was primarily focused on developing novel cancer treatments. The company was little-known internationally. But the founders were confident in the potential of their mRNA technology, which they knew could trigger a powerful immune response. BioNTech knew that to successfully produce, test and manufacture a Covid vaccine on a global scale, it would need a bigger partner. The company already had a relationship with Pfizer, having worked with them since 2018 to develop an mRNA-based flu vaccine, which is in clinical trials. So, BioNTech turned to them.
The companies succeeded. In August, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine became the first to gain full FDA approval.