The scientist who helped to formulate the first widely-used COVID-19 vaccine says the technology behind it will soon be used to fight cancer.
Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, worked on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China last February. The couple took the knowledge of that project and turned it into a safe vaccine against the Coronavirus.
“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press.
The COVID-19 vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer and rival Moderna use messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on cancer.
“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer. (It’s) very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”
BioNTech and its partners who were involved with COVID-19 vaccine testing are asking governments and regulatory authorities to carry the same sense of urgency when it comes to reducing the threat of cancer.
“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” Tureci said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with ours or other vaccines.”
Among the biggest challenges will be duplicating the process of how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand. Time will tell if the miraculous team can pull off another medical wonder.