Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin
Ugur Sahin, the co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, with Arab News's Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (AN photo)
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Updated 08 March 2021

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin
  • Turkish-German scientist and entrepreneur envisions use of techniques developed for COVID-19 fight in successful cancer treatment
  • Sahin says a new vaccine version would be more easily transportable and more effective against new COVID-19 variants

DUBAI: The man who invented the first vaccine against the deadly coronavirus is prioritizing a cure for cancer as his post-pandemic target.

Ugur Sahin, the co-founder and chief executive of BioNTech, the firm which developed the earliest authorized vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, told Arab News that successful cancer treatment, using similar techniques he developed in the fight against COVID-19, was his next goal.

Sahin, who developed the vaccine along with his wife Ozlem Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer, was appearing in the latest episode of Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading global policy-makers and business people.

“Definitely. The success now with our COVID-19 vaccine is of course transformative for the company, and we see that as a great opportunity,” he said

 

Sahin also spoke of the “next generation” of COVID vaccine his company is developing, the need for a fairer system of global distribution of the existing vaccine, and the possibility that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be manufactured in the Middle East.

BioNTech began life as a company focused on using revolutionary mRNA technology to develop new medical weapons in the fight against cancer, and Sahin said that was his next goal once the pandemic had been defeated. The success of the COVID-19 vaccine has proved a vindication of his methods, and given BioNTech the financial resources to pursue the cancer treatment.

“We see that as a great opportunity, and also an obligation to think in an even bigger fashion about our vision, and how we could accelerate our cancer program and make it more available,” he said.

Sahin, who is the son of Turkish immigrants to Germany, where BioNTech is based, revealed that a new version of the COVID-19 vaccine could be ready soon, one that is more easily transportable and which could deal more effectively with the more deadly variants of the disease that are appearing in different parts of the world.

“We started to manufacture our vaccine and it came at the beginning with a challenge. We have a vaccine which has to be kept at minus 70 degrees. It’s not yet suitable for supply to all regions on the planet,” he said.

“But we are working on better conditions. We have, most recently, published that we can also start at minus 20 and we will continue to work on that and our aim is really to make our vaccine available — 2 billion doses and maybe even more in 2021 — including not only developed countries but also developing countries.” 

 

The “next generation” of the vaccine could be stored and transported at temperatures as high as minus 2 to minus 8 degrees, he said.

Sahin said that the existing vaccine was also expected to be effective against the South African variant of the virus, which is more transmissible and leads to higher fatality rates, but he added that there was still more testing to be done and data analyzed on the new variants.

Distributing the vaccine more fairly is a challenge, he admitted. “Fairness is always a question of logistics and also accessibility. Our goal when we started to develop this vaccine — and this is in the center of our hearts — is to make our vaccine available worldwide to everyone who needs it,” he said.

He also believes that a more innovative and entrepreneurial approach is needed to solve the problems of distribution of the vaccine to poorer parts of the world.

“We should really ask the question: How can we work together to make that possible?” Sahin said. “That's for some of the future goals, to really understand what are the limitations. For example, for the vaccine supply now, I really want to understand what is the limitation to make our vaccine available to people everywhere,” he said.

One of the key questions in the minds of economic and medical policymakers is when the increasing level of vaccination will begin to bring economic life back to normal after the damaging lockdowns of the past year. “it indeed depends on the rollout. We have this magic number of about 60 to 70 percent of people being vaccinated to start to see a herd immunity, but we are already starting to see the first effects of the vaccinations, with countries starting to vaccinate elderly people.

 

“So the first effect is that the hospitalizations are dropping in the vaccinated people and that's the first very important aspect — to get the reduction of hospitalization and mortality, and later on get also a better control of infections,” Sahin said.

On the problem of persuading people reluctant to have the vaccine, he said: “We have to continue to communicate the benefits we are seeing. This could help convince people.”

BioNTech partnered with US pharmaceuticals group Pfizer when the potential of its vaccine was in the early stages, optimizing the Americans’ global network for clinical trials, supply and regulatory know-how.

“So, we combined our skills and we are working together, driven by science. At the end of the day, we all want to accomplish the same: We want to develop the vaccine as soon as possible, we want to produce as much as possible, and of course we want to have a safe and effective vaccine,” he said.

Outside the US, the vaccine is manufactured at BioNTech facilities in Europe and transported internationally. A new facility in the German town of Marburg is being prepared to manufacture the vaccine in greater numbers, but Sahin explained the long and complex work required in setting up facilities overseas.

 

“It will take us about eight months until we will get out the first vaccines from Marburg. So, this is really the minimal time that would be required. It does not help in the early phase of the pandemic to set up new factories somewhere else. Every factory that we are now starting to consider will help us only in mid-2022,” he said.

The vaccine has been authorized and delivered early in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, and two countries in the region — Israel and the UAE — top the world tables for the highest proportion of their populations already vaccinated.

Sahin said that the region could be the location of future manufacturing facilities, for the COVID-19 vaccine or for other, potentially more devastating viruses.

“What this pandemic taught us is very clear. It was somehow expected by experts, since more than 20 years, that this could happen. It happened and we were not well prepared, the world was not well prepared. This is a bad pandemic, but it's not the worst possible pandemic,” he said.

 

Sahin declined to comment on the qualities of rival vaccines available. “This is not a race. If it is a race, it’s against the virus, and I'm really happy about that,” he said.

“I had predicted that we will need multiple vaccine developers to participate and to ensure that everyone on the planet is able to get a vaccine, and this is happening.

“It is wonderful to see that all kinds of international collaborations have come up not only with one vaccine, but there are multiple vaccines.”

Sahin and Ozlem, who were named “People of the Year 2020” for their breakthrough in developing the first authorized vaccine, also joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires as the value of the company soared on news of the vaccine.

The founders of BioNTech have strong views on the value of philanthropy in the fight against life-threatening diseases, as rich and successful entrepreneurs increasingly donate a large proportion of their wealth to medical research.

“It is extremely important. We have to understand everyone can do something, and the way we would like to position our company is to become a useful company with a philanthropic vision. At the end of the day the question is: How can we ensure that the things we do are done for the benefit of humanity,” Sahin said.

“I don't see a clear reason why, for example, people living in Africa should not benefit from modern cancer treatments.”

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline
Updated 21 April 2021

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline

Many global stocks lower after Wall St. decline
  • London and Frankfurt opened lower, while Shanghai and Tokyo also declined

BEIJING: Major global stock markets were mostly lower Tuesday after Wall Street retreated from record highs.

London and Frankfurt opened lower, while Shanghai and Tokyo also declined. Hong Kong and Seoul advanced.

Wall Street futures gained a day after the benchmark S&P 500 index lost 0.5 percent on declines for tech, bank and energy stocks.

Investor optimism has been boosted by higher corporate profits, US hiring and consumer confidence. Still, traders are uneasy about a rise in inflation and interest rates and renewed coronavirus infections that prompted some governments to reimpose anti-disease controls.

“Wall Street could be in for a few choppy trading weeks as more of the same strong earnings beats becomes the theme,” said Edward Moya of Oanda in a report.

In early trading, the FTSE 100 in London declined 0.3 percent to 6,982.77 and the DAX in Frankfurt lost 0.2 percent to 15,335.68. The CAC 40 in Paris shed 0.6 percent to 6,256.90. On Wall Street, futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up less than 0.1 percent.

On Monday, the Dow lost 0.4 percent. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow hit highs on Friday.

Capital One lost 0.9 percent and Valero Energy slid 2.3 percent.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 1 percent. Chipmaker Intel fell 1.7 percent.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.1 percent to 3,472.94 while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo tumbled 2 percent to 29,100.38. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong gained 0.1 percent to 29,135.73.

The Kospi in Seoul rose 0.7 percent to 3,220.70 while the S&P-ASX 200 in Sydney sank 0.7 percent to 7,017.80.

India’s Sensex was up less than 0.1 percent at 47,978.05. New Zealand, Singapore and Jakarta declined while Bangkok advanced.

This week, 81 of the 500 members of the S&P 500 index are due to report earnings, as are 10 of the 30 members of the Dow, including Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Communications and Intel. On average, analysts expect quarterly profits across the S&P 500 to be up 24 percent from a year earlier, according to FactSet. In energy markets, benchmark US crude rose 82 cents to $64.25 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 90 cents to $67.95 per barrel in London.

The dollar advanced to 108.40 yen from Monday’s 108.11 yen. The euro gained to $1.2070 from $1.2039.


Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA
Updated 21 April 2021

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA

Surge in demand for companies looking to set up in KSA
  • Consultants have seen a 50 percent rise in activity in the first quarter of 2021

RIYADH: Sovereign AEI, a firm which specializes in helping companies set up operations in the Kingdom, has seen a spike in business activity.

“The beginning of this year has been very encouraging as we have seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in Saudi Arabia market-entry activity, when compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Stuart D’Souza, co-founder and CEO of Arabian Enterprise Incubators (AEI), one of the partner firms that makes up Sovereign AEI, told Arab News.

As part of the ambitious Riyadh Strategy 2030 announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this year, the government wants to attract up to 500 international companies to set up their regional bases in the city, create around 35,000 new jobs for Saudi locals, and double the capital’s population.

The strategy aims to invest up to SR70 billion ($18.67 billion) into the national economy by the end of the decade. The strategy is already paying dividends.

“Sovereign AEI is helping to facilitate this new strategy. Our products and services are conducive with Riyadh Strategy 2030 by helping new and existing businesses capitalize on the expected significant growth forecast for the Kingdom,” Paul Arnold, managing director of Sovereign Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

BACKGROUND

• The government wants to attract up to 500 international companies to set up their regional bases in the city, create around 35,000 new jobs for Saudi locals, and double the capital’s population.

• The strategy aims to invest up to SR70 billion ($18.67 billion) into the national economy by the end of the decade. The strategy is already paying dividends.

“We are also encouraging businesses to look ahead and establish a physical presence in the Kingdom, while taking into consideration new criteria set to come into force by 2024, the specifics of which are yet to be formally announced,” he added.

Sovereign has been operating in Saudi Arabia for about 20 years and AEI since 2012. They formed their joint partnership in 2019.

In 2019, the company helped 600 businesses visit Saudi Arabia to investigate potential opportunities. Half were first-time visitors and over 70 percent went on to establish new business links in the Kingdom. AEI alone has helped over 1,500 foreign businesses to enter, establish or expand in Saudi Arabia since 2012.

Last year, despite the restrictions as a result of the pandemic, Sovereign AEI reported a 300 percent increase in corporate services in Saudi Arabia. The team is expecting this positive growth to continue in 2021.

“The Saudi market presents tremendous opportunities. Most companies are now aware of the potential of the market, the main pillars of Vision 2030 and the significant number of economic reforms carried out over the past 18 months. However, plotting a road map to success can be a challenge,” Arnold said.

“Our principles are to educate, de-risk and enable the client’s ability to enter, establish or expand in the Kingdom. Our robust performance in the first quarter is a testament to the attractive nature of the Saudi market and we continue to see a growing interest and increasing shift of client focus toward the Kingdom, as the country continues to unveil new strategic initiatives,” he added.


New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’
Updated 21 April 2021

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’

New oil price surge caps year of recovery since ‘Black Monday’
  • Anniversary of US crude plunging to minus-$40 at start of pandemic recession

DUBAI: Oil prices resumed their surge on global markets on Tuesday as traders shrugged off the memory of “Black Monday” 2020, when some crude prices went into negative territory at the start of the pandemic recession.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, went above $68 a barrel for the first time in over a year, while West Texas Intermediate, which approached minus-$40 at the depth of the oil crisis exactly a year ago, leapt above $64.
The resurgence in the oil price — which has seen some experts suggesting the possibility of a “supercycle” in which crude goes back above $100 a barrel — is partly down to improved prospects as the global economy moves outs of pandemic lockdowns.
The global rollout of coronavirus vaccines has led economic experts to predict a sharp recovery in growth in 2021, with the International Monetary Fund recently forecasting a sharp rise in economic activity for the rest of the year. China last week said its economy had grown by 18.3 percent in the first quarter of the year.
But oil analysts believe the actions of OPEC+ — the producers’ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia —had been the biggest factor in helping reduce the huge glut of oil that threatened to swamp the world market last spring.
Since last April, OPEC+ has taken more than 3 billion barrels of oil off the global market, through a combination of strong internal discipline and voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter.
Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, the Saudi Energy Minister and co-chairman of OPEC+, has repeatedly urged caution on the 23-member organization as COVID-19 cases re-emerge in some parts of the world. Europe and India are the latest causes of concern.
“The reality remains that the global picture is far from even, and the recovery is far from complete,” he told the last OPEC+ meeting.
The oil price bulls are encouraged by increasing demand from China, the biggest oil consumer in the world.
Figures from the country’s customs regulator, released on Tuesday, showed that crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia — its biggest supplier — had risen by nearly 9 percent in March, with strong domestic demand bolstered by a freeing up of supplies after port congestions.
Some analysts still believe Brent crude could hit $75 this year, and reckon $100 a barrel next year is a possibility.
But nobody appears to believe the volatile market conditions of last spring, and negative oil prices, will happen again.
Robin Mills, chief executive officer of consultancy Qamar Energy, told Arab News: “That was a pretty unusual set of circumstances.”
He added: “Never say never, and traders have short memories, but I think the fixes in place would make it unlikely to go negative again.”


Egypt targets investments of $80 billion

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion
Updated 21 April 2021

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion

Egypt targets investments of $80 billion
  • Plan forecasts 125 percent increase in funding for production sector

CAIRO: Egypt is aiming to raise EGP 1.25 trillion ($80 billion) as part of its investment plan for the fiscal year 2021/2022, according to the Egyptian Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala Al-Saeed.

The investment plan forecasts a 125 percent increase in funding for the production sector, the minister said, along with a 30 percent increase for the country’s service sector.

Al-Saeed said the plan helps address the public spending commitments related to health and education and scientific research, as well funding for the continued efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said priority would be given to high-productivity sectors that drive sustainable economic growth in Egypt such as the manufacturing, communications, information technology and agriculture sectors.

According to the minister, the most important goals of the 2021/2022 sustainable development plan include addressing important social issues such as gender equality and public investments into green projects.


Korean envoy invites Saudi Arabia to GICC2021

Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
Updated 20 April 2021

Korean envoy invites Saudi Arabia to GICC2021

Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook during a meeting with Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr and officials from Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing. (Supplied)
  • The annual conference provides an opportunity to present projects to potential Korean partners, and to hold personal consultations

RIYADH: South Korean Ambassador Jo Byung-Wook has invited Saudi Arabia to attend the Global Infrastructure Cooperation Conference (GICC2021).

The annual conference provides an opportunity to present projects to potential Korean partners, and to hold personal consultations.

The ambassador met Prince Saud bin Talal bin Badr, undersecretary at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing for housing subsidies, and general supervisor of the International Cooperation Department at the ministry in Riyadh.

GICC2021 is scheduled for “later this year,” the ambassador told Arab News, adding that the meeting “reviewed the close, friendly and cooperative relations” between the two countries, and “agreed to continue to expand bilateral cooperation in the housing sector.”

He said: “I commended the Saudi government’s efforts to help Saudi families own their house through the Sakani program, taking note of the signing of four agreements during the Sakani Forum held last Thursday in Riyadh.”

The Sakani program helped 70,000 families in the first quarter of 2021, surpassing its target of serving 51,000 families.

It was formed in 2017 by the Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund, with the aim of facilitating home ownership in the Kingdom by creating new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals, and financing their purchase. It has a goal of reaching 70 percent home ownership by 2030.

The program aims to serve 220,000 Saudi families this year by creating 50,000 housing units, facilitating the reservation of 30,000 residential land plots, and arranging 140,000 real estate loans. To date, Sakani has enabled more than 350,000 families to own homes.