BioNTech Vaccine Effective Against Mutation Strains In UK, SA

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CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin speaks with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” today about Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine being effective against new mutation strains in UK and South Africa.

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BioNTech CEO: Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine effective against mutation strains in UK, South Africa


MEG TIRRELL: Andrew, thank you so much and Ugur Sahin, the BioNTech CEO, joins us now. Dr. Sahin, thank you for being with us to kick off our JPMorgan healthcare coverage. I want to start by asking you about your vaccine with Pfizer for COVID-19 and these new strains that we are hearing about around the world, originating in the UK and in South Africa, and you showed some data last week showing some reassuring news that your vaccine appears to protect against at least one shared mutation in those strains but tell us about the South African variant in particular, how worried you are about whether that could evade the vaccine’s protections.

DR. UGUR SAHIN: Morning Meg. Yeah, yeah. Indeed, indeed, we understand that the virus is mutating now and in different agents in the world. We have now new mutants which have been discovered. We know that this is going to happen and we are confident that based on the mechanism of our vaccine, even though there are mutations, we believe that the immune response which is induced by, by our vaccine could also deal with mutated virus and so far we had shown in the past that about 20 different mutations viruses, 20 different mutations could be neutralized. The last week we reported another mutation which is, which is present in the UK variant, and also the South African variant and this mutation is an important, is considered to be important mutation because it could change structurally the protein but it seems, it appears that that the immune response against our vaccine also neutralizes this mutation and we are going to present more data in the coming, coming days. Looking also for the other type of mutations in the UK variant and in the South African variant.

TIRRELL: If you found that there was any reason that the vaccines wouldn't be quite as protective, how quickly could you pivot to create a new construct and are you already working on that just in case?

SAHIN: Yeah, so the messenger RNA technology has one key advantage, it could, so the vaccine could be adapted relatively quickly so we can change the sequence of the, of the, of the vaccine within a few days and we could deliver a new vaccine, vaccine within six weeks in principle. So, this is technically possible and if this is needed, we would go for, for that, of course. This would also require discussions with regulatory authorities for example with the FDA, whether the FDA supports that such a vaccine is used directly or whether the FDA requests additional studies to be done before the vaccine could be made available so we are confident that the technology would allow us to be extremely fast in responding to a mutation or to a virus variant which comes with different properties.

TIRRELL: Wow six weeks I mean are you and are you already working on potentially designing those constructs so that you could get a jump on it if it does turn out that one of these variants or one that we haven't found yet can invade the current vaccine.

SAHIN: Yeah, of course, that is what is happening. So, what we are doing together with our colleagues from Pfizer is we are monitoring new mutations, we are monitoring new viruses and every time when a new virus appears which seemed to have other biological properties be rapidly this time the sequence and prepare, that if needed, we could respond quickly.

TIRELL: When do you expect to have data on whether the vaccine prevents transmission, the actual ability of the virus to infect cells, we know it does a great job at preventing disease but what about transmission.

SAHIN: Yeah, so we are, we are collecting data which provides an indirect, indirect measure of that, we will investigate whether the vaccine is also able to, to prevent a symptomatic disease, which is, which is highly correlated with, with transmission and we will, we expect to have this data end of January, mid-February. So, the studies are already ongoing, and we have to see.

JOE KERNEN: Doctor, the platform itself and I'm not talking about for vaccines but I'm talking about the ability now to, to actually get the messenger RNA which is very unstable to get it to the site where it could actually be used. The, obviously the VISTAs open for any genetic defect in a human that you could solve with the proper messenger RNA, it seems like you could start addressing some of these diseases. But I, you would need an injection every time to provide that. Is there a time release version that you could do or is there a way of getting around that for some of these genetic deficiencies that could be solved using messenger RNA.

SAHIN: So, they are different ways, there are more than 20 different ways in how messenger RNAs can be, can be engineered for example, one option is also to deliver CRISPR as a messenger RNA or other gene editing enzymes via messenger RNA and if you would provide a gene editing enzyme as messenger RNA into a certain tissue, you might, you might change the genetic effect, yeah. But this is only possible if you combine the messenger RNA technology with aesthetic gene editing technologies like CRISPR.

KERNEN: Yeah, then it gets more dangerous I guess because it becomes a permanent part of, of the, the genome would it not if it went in and then, then you got all kinds of things to consider at that point because…

SAHIN: Yeah, the alternative is that you make a protein replacement treatment where you provide the messenger on a every, every week or every second week and these are also applications which are currently tested in preclinical models and I'm sure a number of applications will go into clinical testing within the next years.

TIRRELL: Well the potential for this technology is just huge and feeling like we're at the beginning of it is really an amazing point. Doctor, just one more question before we let you go, have you had your vaccine yet for COVID?

SAHIN: Ah so we are not yet allowed to take our vaccine but we found, found a way to make the vaccine really available also to the manufacturing teams and we will hopefully get the team members and maybe myself also vaccinated in the, in the coming weeks.

TIRRELL: All right. We look forward to hearing about it. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

SAHIN: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure.