US drug maker Pfizer wrongly assumed that the coronavirus outbreak would be quickly contained and thus declined the offer made by BioNTech to develop a vaccine against the infectious disease that has so far claimed more than 4 million lives globally.
Germany-based BioNTech, now capitalised at US$84 billion, helmed by Turkish couple Dr Ugur Sahin and his wife Dr Ozlem Tureci, were given a “no” by the pharmaceutical giant as the virus was starting to sweep the globe in January 2020, the Telegraph reported.
“Guys, this is not going to work, they were told by Dr Phil Dormitzer, Pfizer’s Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for vaccines. Dormitzer also considered it to be too experimental,” the report said.
“My working assumption was that it (Covid-19) would be controlled” like the SARS and MERS outbreaks, Dormitzer later confirmed.
It is because Dormitzer had been involved with discussions about whether to create vaccines for MERS and SARS, only to see the pathogens quickly contained.
However, it was only a “matter of time” before Pfizer changed its mind and a deal was announced between the two companies a month later.
So far, about 1.4 billion doses of Pfizer and BioNTech two-dose revolutionary Covid jab, developed based on mRNA technology, has been shipped to more than 120 countries.
BioNTech founders revealed the story of initial rejection by Pfizer in a new book titled The Vaccine, written by journalist Joe Miller, to be released this week, the report said.
It also accounts how the couple, who emigrated to Germany from Turkey as small children and met on a cancer ward as young doctors, built not one billion-dollar biotech company but two. And how they gambled everything to pivot BioNTech to focus exclusively on a Covid vaccine in early 2020, it added.