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The biotechnology chief executive behind the first Covid-19 vaccine said a new formulation would be needed by mid-next year to protect against the virus as it mutates.
Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, told the Financial Times that over time, mutations emerge that can evade the body’s immune resistance. “This year [a different vaccine] completely unnecessary. But by the middle of next year, it could be a different situation, ‘he predicted.
A partnership between German biotechnology and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer has launched the first Covid-19 vaccine. It was also the first vaccine based on mRNA technology to obtain regulatory approval, and was the world’s best-selling drug this year.
In an interview with the FT, Sahin said that the Covid-19 variants currently in circulation, especially the Delta strain, are more contagious but are not different enough to undermine the effectiveness of current vaccines.
Booster shots can apparently tackle the main variant, Sahin said. But the virus will eventually develop mutations that could escape the vaccine’s immune response, he said, requiring a ‘customized’ version to focus specifically on the new strain.
“This virus will remain, and the virus will adapt further,” he said. ‘We have no reason to assume that the next generation virus for the immune system can be more easily treated than the existing generation. It is a continuous evolution, and the evolution has just begun. “
By next year, there will be two main streams to vaccination programs, Sahin predicted. There will be talk of those who have already been vaccinated, as well as a sustained effort to vaccinate people who have had minimal access so far.
Pfizer and BioNTech and other Covid-19 vaccine makers have been under pressure from developing countries and aid groups to share patents so that vaccines can be produced more widely. Sahin rejects patent sharing as a risk to quality control. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, argued that it would hamper innovation.
Pharma groups have tried to address the concern by offering to broaden access to the vaccine and invest in production in regions such as Africa, where Pfizer and BioNTech last month announced plans for a “fill-and-finish” “to develop a manufacturing plant in Cape Town.
Sahin did not want to make any predictions about how the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine will be priced in the future, but said he expects it to be needed in the coming years.
The US announced in September that they would buy another 500m doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine at profitable rates to countries with lower incomes.