Thank you Özlem,
Her Excellency, Madame President, Prime minister, esteemed representative of the Theophano Foundation, most esteemed guests, dear Albert, Thank you. Thank you everyone for the Empress Theophano award – We feel incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award at this wonderful location and in this company of extraordinary people.
I would like to continue with why we believe that mRNA technology will become the next revolution in medicine.
Let me first pay tribute to the success of the community of scientists. The rapid development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines is a historically unprecedented success and offers a way out of the pandemic. Several vaccines including vaccines based on traditional technologies as well as on a new technology were developed on record time, and proven to safe and efficacious in phase 3 clinical trials.
However, messenger RNA (mRNA)-based COVID-19 vaccines contributed to this success in an outstanding manner. It marks a new era in drug development. Never before in the history of medicine has a drug based on a new technology been developed so quickly, so successfully, and made available to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
This breakthrough was not made possible by a single step.
This innovation is based on the accomplishments of many.
It is the cumulative impact of scientific and technological discoveries from various fields over the past 30 years that helped transform a mere concept into a highly potent and versatile technology platform with ideal properties.
mRNA bypasses complex and time-consuming fermentation-based manufacturing processes. Instead of producing protein outside of the body, mRNA as a natural biomolecule enables the human body to produce the desired protein.
The establishment of the mRNA technology is a major turning point in the pharmaceutical industry, comparable to the introduction of recombinant DNA technology that enabled the production of human protein drugs such as insulin or monoclonal antibodies in laboratory fermenters. This was more than 40 years ago.
The development of mRNA based COVID-19 vaccines has demonstrated the efficacy and safety of this approach for prophylactic infectious disease vaccines. Not only is it impressive that a safe and effective vaccine could be developed in the midst of a pandemic in less than 12 months. The fact that our teams at BNT and Pfizer will produce and provide more than 3 billion doses worldwide by end of 2021 exceeds all expectations. This makes it very clear, that mRNA vaccines will play an important role in future global pandemic preparedness programs, which are now high on the agenda of governments worldwide.
We can expect a major acceleration in mRNA vaccines against infectious diseases. Many existing infectious disease vaccines like the ones against influenza can be converted to the mRNA format. This is an opportunity to make them more efficient.
We believe that the versatility of mRNA technology holds the promise to combat previously undefeated infectious diseases. At BioNTech, we are investing in mRNA vaccine programs to address the massive burden of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV, all of which are tragically still prevalent and contribute to high mortality rates in many low-income countries.
The prospect of the power of mRNA technology creates a sense of optimism to combat old plagues of humanity. As Özlem noted – the pandemic has taught us the beauty and power of partnerships: Our recently launched projects feature a high degree of international collaboration among various stakeholders, including the World Health Organization (WHO), international regulatory agencies and funding organizations such as the Gates as well as the Kenup foundation: In addition, the programs are supported by experts who have been studying these pathogens for more than 30 years. Our first mRNA vaccine candidates against these infectious diseases are expected to enter the clinical phase in 2022 and 2023.
The prospect of mRNA technology is even broader. The validation of mRNA as a new class of drugs has come at just the right time: we are living in a period of historic advances in biomedical research that hold extraordinary promise for the development of new drugs. At the same time, we face ever-increasing global health challenges such as age-related chronic diseases in developed countries and the growing need for affordable primary health care in low-income countries. These challenges require sustainable innovations that combine cost-effectiveness and versatility, and have the potential to personalize treatment and address medical needs in rare diseases.
We believe that these needs can be perfectly met by mRNA. The rich toolbox of mRNA technologies includes not only currently approved mRNA drugs, but also an increasingly diversified portfolio of mRNA formats. We have been doing fundamental research for years and some of the new formats could become even more powerful than the approved mRNA technology. It is also important to recognize that there is a plethora of different ways to deliver mRNA to different organs and cells of the human body.
At some point in the future, mRNA drugs will be used for treatment of a variety of diseases including cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, and regenerative medicine to repair and rejuvenate human tissues and organs. One example of a potentially breakthrough medical application enabled by mRNA technology is individualized mRNA immunotherapies tailored to each patient and their tumor’s genetic characteristics.
We believe that this is a key to address one of the fundamental challenges of human cancers, namely that each and every cancer is completely different.
Messenger RNA can be used to encode messages and instructions to cells in the human body – any message. It allows us to communicate with the cells in the human body and use their biological mechanisms to prevent and treat disease. That is what is attractive about the method.
This is the prospect of the technology,
but it is the human factor which matters even more.
Let us be brave and optimistic – The limits of the application of mRNA are the limits of biology. The world is in a phase right now where our knowledge of biology and disease is evolving dramatically. Once we understand a biologically relevant mechanism, we have the means to influence it.
Let us understand our historical responsibility and think at a global scale – I don´t see any fundamental reason why the most advanced mRNA medicines cannot be made available to the world’s poorest people in a timely manner. This is not about waiving patents. It is about sharing our knowledge in a well-coordinated manner. It is about harmonized processes and about creating the necessary conditions and infrastructure for the production and use of medicines that meet the same standards everywhere. It is about working closely together with all stakeholders to bring innovation to those who need it most.
Let us be realistic and patient. We should not assume that everything will happened automatically. We need to combine different areas of science, invest in a sustainable manner, and be patient. Drug development can take decades. We need to remain humble. We can shorten the processes in the future, but certainly not as much as we did with the development of the Corona vaccines.
And finally, let’s not forget, great progress is based on many small ones. Let us pay attention on the details and diversity of science. Every contribution, no matter how small and from which direction, can make a difference for science and ultimately for humanity.
We are very grateful to be here today and we can’t wait to contribute to a better tomorrow – together with trusted partners in the fields of science, economics and politics. Thank you!