BioNTech says it will start cancer vaccine trials in the UK from September
An NHS vaccinator administers the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 booster vaccine to a woman at a vaccination center in London. BioNTech is launching a large-scale trial of mRNA therapies to treat cancer and other diseases in the UK
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LONDON – The UK government on Friday announced a partnership with German firm BioNTech to test potential vaccines for cancer and other diseases, as campaigners warned that any progress must remain affordable and accessible.
Cancer patients in England will have early access to trials involving personalized mRNA therapies, including cancer vaccines, which aim to stimulate the immune system to attack harmful cells.
They will be given to patients in the early and late stages and will target active cancer cells and prevent them from coming back.
BioNTech will establish new research and development centers in the UK, with a laboratory in Cambridge and headquarters in London, and aim to deliver 10,000 therapies to patients from September 2023 to the end of the decade.
The company developed one of the most widespread Covid-19 vaccines together with the American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer. Its chief executive, Ugur Sahin, said it had learned lessons from the coronavirus pandemic about collaboration between Britain’s National Health Service, academics, regulators and the private sector in drug development that it was now applying.
“Our goal is to accelerate the development of immunotherapies and vaccines using the technologies we have been researching for more than 20 years,” he said in a statement. “The collaboration will cover different types of cancer and infectious diseases that collectively affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”
Peter Johnson, Cancer Britain’s National Clinical Director, said mRNA technology had the potential to transform approaches to a number of diseases.
The government confirmed to CNBC that the announcement represented a private investment in the UK, but would be supported by a new NHS-funded cancer vaccine launch platform.
Other mRNA cancer vaccines, including a collaboration between US firms Moderna and Merck, are also being tested.
Tim Bierley, a campaigner at the UK-based group Global Justice Now, said big pharmaceutical companies had “an appalling record of raising the prices of new drugs, even when public money has played a key role in their behavior in shop”.
“The government has a moral duty to push BioNtech to price this potentially life-saving vaccine so that it is affordable for everyone,” he said.
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Mohga Kamal-Yanni, co-director of policy for the People’s Vaccine Alliance — a global group of health organizations, economists and activists — said news of the trial was good, but that any outcome “belongs to the people” because of the amount of public funding included.
“The UK government needs to say how it will ensure that any new medicine, vaccine or technology is made available and affordable to developing countries,” Kamal-Yanni said.
A government spokesperson told CNBC that the research was at too early a stage to discuss pricing and distribution, but noted its track record in distributing free Covid-19 vaccines.