Bancel said he awoke sweating at 4 a.m., realizing, “Jeez, there’s going to be a pandemic like 1918.”
For Sahin, it was reading a paper in the Lancet in late January describing the outbreak in China.
“I did several calculations, fast calculations, and realized it had already spread,” Sahin said. “And it was clear that it was already too late to stop the disease.”
The focus of BioNTtech back then was on personalized cancer therapies. The company contacted Pfizer to work together on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus while using the same technology as well as messenger RNA.
“We had the first contact a few days after starting the project,” Sahin said. “At that time, Pfizer was not yet interested.”
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, confirmed Sahin’s account, saying in the earliest months of 2020, he was focused on maintaining the company’s operations in China. But by late February, he said, he’d determined Pfizer needed to work on treatment and a vaccine.
“What is the best approach?” Bourla said he asked his team.