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BioNTech: Vaccine likely also effective against new variants

Mainz, Germany - The boss of Germany's BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is confident that his pharmaceutical company's coronavirus vaccine will also work against the new mutation of the virus that has emerged in Britain.

Coronavirus has mutated

From a scientific point of view, the probability is high, he told dpa. "We have already tested the vaccine against around 20 other virus variants with other mutations. The immune response generated by our vaccine has always deactivated all forms of virus," he said.

The virus has now mutated a little more, Sahin said. "We now have to test it experimentally. This will take about two weeks. However, we are confident that this will not significantly affect the mechanism of action."

The antigen that the Mainz-based company and its US partner Pfizer use for the vaccine consists of more than 1,270 amino acids, according to Sahin. Nine of them have now mutated, so not even 1 per cent.

"Our vaccine sees all of the protein and causes multiple immune responses. As a result, we have so many docking points that it is difficult for the virus to escape. But that doesn't mean that the new variant is harmless."

Number of vaccine doses not affected

The BioNTech vaccine based on the messenger molecule mRNA can in principle be quickly adapted to new variants.

According to Sahin, the comparatively long duration of the EU approval process had no impact on the amount of vaccine doses that the Mainz-based company produced.

"We had already planned distribution of the vaccine doses in advance, and we are sticking to that. What has changed, of course, is the number we can deliver this year. But overall, the number of doses that we promised the EU will not change."

He has called the EU approval for the BioNTech vaccine, which took place, "historically by far the fastest drug approval."

BioNTech not only had to answer the questions of the EU authorities, but also many questions from individual countries. "This made the process more strenuous, but it was just part of attending to the procedures in the EU correctly step by step."

More production facilities for the vaccine

According to him, neither he nor his wife, BioNTech co-founder and medical director Ozlem Tureci, have so far been vaccinated with the active ingredient developed by their company. "We would like that as soon as we have an appropriate basis for it," he said.

"It is important for us that we provide our employees in production with the appropriate vaccine doses." The aim is to guarantee the uninterrupted manufacture of vaccines in BioNTech's production network during the next 12 months. "We are therefore considering using a small batch that is independent of the EU quota for this purpose."

Sahin indicated that BioNTech is considering further production facilities for the vaccine in addition to its plants in Mainz and Idar-Oberstein in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and soon also in Marburg in the state of Hesse.

"We are talking about activating another production facility through a partnership," he said. There is also the well-known partnership with the pharmaceutical company Dermapharm, which also produces for BioNTech.

"We are now trying to find more partners. We aim to make doses that were planned for the second half of 2021 available in the first half."

He called the conditional approval of the BioNTech vaccine in the EU "great" and added: "The fact that the EU is now giving us the opportunity to provide people with our Covid-19 vaccine gives us relief and makes us happy. We have seen the desire in many places that people want to have a a vaccine."

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