It was January 24, 2020 when BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin knew that Covid-19 was likely to turn into a global pandemic.
Although it took over a month and a half for the World Health Organization to officially declare a pandemic, Sahin met with his wife, BioNTech’s co-founder and chief medical officer, Özlem Türeci. Together they agreed to redirect most of the company’s resources to developing a vaccine.
“He came up to me and explained his thoughts and fears to me,” said Türeci. “And it was immediately clear to both of us that the technology that we had and that we had already developed clinically could contribute to a quick response.”
Until then, BioNTech mainly focused on developing novel cancer therapies. The company was little known internationally. However, the founders were convinced of the potential of their mRNA technology, which they knew could trigger a powerful immune response. BioNTech knew it would need a larger partner to successfully manufacture, test and manufacture a Covid vaccine on a global scale. The company already had a relationship with Pfizer and has worked with them since 2018 to develop an mRNA-based flu vaccine that is in clinical trials. So BioNTech reached out to them.
The companies succeeded in doing this. In August, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine became the first to receive full FDA approval.
Watch the video to learn more about the rise of BioNTech.