Written By: Anonymous
Pfizer and its army of steely-eyed scientists have shown no less determination and ingenuity in developing a vaccine than the engineers that built the Brooklyn Bridge. The precision, craftsmanship, and the care involved make it a wonder to behold. The work they completed is artful, yet durable enough to withstand the most tempestuous storm. The book, “Moonshot” written by Dr.Albert Bourla, offers an insider account of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine that will continue to inspire scientists for decades.
What I Didn’t Know
The backdrop of the book is a pandemic that I and many are entirely ready to forget. While receding from my daily thoughts, the spread of COVID-19 remains a threat in other parts of the world where public health concerns and economic devastation persist. Yet it is what I didn’t know that makes the book so compelling.
Pfizer and Moderna’s development and promotion of approved mRNA vaccines have made this technology feel familiar to us. The book credits BioNTech founders Dr. Özlem Türeci and Dr. Ugur Sahin for their life’s work in disease prevention. BioNTech began with a mission to remedy cancer through mRNA vaccines. The gravity of that statement never really resonated with me until I heard Dr. Sahin explain that our immune system is the real champion in this fight. The mRNA vaccines simply inform the immune system of how to identify deadly invaders. Whereas, such a statement might be well understood as it relates to viral infections, directing our immune system to destroy cancer cells is an astounding concept to me. What an exquisite vision!
Throughout their headlong and audacious effort to save the world, Pfizer employees were fueled by a “Time Is Life” slogan. The Pfizer team, that so passionately dedicated themselves to developing a vaccine, we’re keenly aware that even a small delay would cost lives. I never considered that Pfizer employees were among the millions that lost their lives to COVID-19. Dr. Bourla notes that hundreds of workers contracted COVID-19 and dozens lost their lives while working feverishly to find a cure. What resonates with me is that Pfizer’s tireless and selfless efforts cost them the precious lives of colleagues. Although extreme care was taken to prevent infection, too many people were working to synthesize and distribute the vaccine to have zero infections. It changes your perception to measure Pfizer’s costs in human terms.
The slogan, “Science Will Win” was well known to me before reading the book. Its hopeful and positive message was a comfort to me during the depths of the pandemic. As we tested numerous vaccine candidates and the essential personnel that staffed our testing centers were protected by nothing more than masks and gowns, I clung to the hope that “Science Will Win”.
What surprised me about its reemergence in this book is for Pfizer, this remains a forward-looking statement. They have not claimed that “Science Has Won”, they are not interested in settling scores with those who doubted the efficacy of this vaccine. The challenges ahead of them are so compelling that the slogan reminds them that their work is unfinished. Dr. Bourla notes that the total deaths from COVID-19 are orders of magnitude lower than annual deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. He describes an awesome vision for health outcomes driven by enhanced data collection and the application of mRNA technology. Though their achievements have garnered worldwide acclaim, they acknowledge their great responsibility and are eager to accept new challenges.
“There are three key areas where, as with all vaccines, we must demonstrate success in order to seek approval for public use. First, the vaccine must be proven effective, meaning it can help prevent COVID-19 disease in at least a majority of vaccinated patients. Second and equally important, the vaccine must be proven safe, with robust safety data generated from thousands of patients. And finally, we must demonstrate that the vaccine can be consistently manufactured at the highest quality standards.”– Dr. Albert Bourla
This responsibility and clarity of purpose are as elemental to Pfizer’s development of new vaccines as the Hippocratic oath is to the treatment of illnesses. It is a fundamental standard that cannot be compromised. Yet, the scientific inquiry goes forward with boundless enthusiasm and joy. Learning about the collaboration between Dr. Bourla and Dr. Sahin was such a surprise. They agreed to begin working on a solution before any legal agreements were drafted. They each deemed that the work was too important to delay. With so much at stake, they could have easily accepted the months-long negotiation period to track down all the agreements before any work began. The world would have been so much worse off if they had. This decision to forego the normal negotiation process may have been an essential ingredient in choosing mRNA in the first place. What was such a startling realization to me is that Pfizer had numerous vaccine candidates including viral vector vaccines that were proven and possibly more likely to yield initial success.
However, mRNA could be altered more readily in the event that variants to COVID emerged. They could also synthesize mRNA in greater quantities compared to the production of traditional viral vector vaccines. Yet, Pfizer owned the viral vector technology and would not need BioNTech if they had chosen it instead. The decision to move forward in an environment of trust and goodwill cinched Pfizer’s choice to select mRNA as the winning vaccine candidate.
Thank you, Dr. Borla and Pfizer. Thank you Dr’s. Türeci and Sahin and BioNTech. The world is so grateful for the work you have completed and awaits, with excitement, your new discoveries!
To learn more about mRNA and how it is teaching the body to make its own medicine, click here to read last month’s blog!