Everything you need to know about BioNTech and the married couple behind the COVID-19 vaccine at the front of a global race

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When BioNTech made its stock market debut on Nasdaq last October, the German biotechnology company was valued at just under $3.4 billion.

Just over a year later, BioNTech BNTX, +7.59% is now worth around $25 billion and the Mainz,Germany-based company hit the headlines earlier this week as it became the front-runner in the race to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market.

Shares in BioNTech soared 14% on Monday after the company said its experimental shot, which is being developed in partnership with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer PFE, -1.32%, was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, based on initial trial results from a Phase 3 clinical trial. This is the first coronavirus vaccine to prove its efficacy in a late-stage clinical study. 

Read: BioNTech and Pfizer say their COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 90% effective, a much higher benchmark than anticipated

The stock was 3% up in early trading on Tuesday and has now climbed 219% year-to-date. By comparison, the S&P 500 has risen 9.7% during the same period.

Here are five things you need to know about BioNTech:

HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM BEHIND THE SCIENCE

BioNTech 22UA, 2.30% was co-founded in 2008 by Uğur Şahin, chief executive of the company, and his wife Özlem Türeci, a fellow board member, along with Austrian cancer expert Christoph Huber.

Şahin, 55, and Türeci, 53, are both scientists and the children of Turkish immigrants to Germany. Şahin’s father worked in a Ford factory in Cologne.

In 2001, the pair founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, a spin off from the universities of Mainz and Zurich that focused on developing a new class of cancer drugs called ideal monoclonal antibodies.

Investors in Ganymed included German investment fund MIG Fonds as the family office of twins Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann, who now hold a large stake in BioNTech. The brothers have long been big investors in biotech, having sold their generic drug company Hexal to Swiss drugmaker Novartis NVS, +0.38% for around $7 billion in 2005.

In 2016, Ganymed was sold to Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma for $1.4 billion

BIONTECH’S IPO

BioNTech raised $150 million in its U.S. initial public offering on Nasdaq on Oct. 9, 2019, after it sold fewer shares and at a lower price than originally planned, giving the company a market valuation of $3.4 billion.

The IPO followed BioNTech’s $325 million fundraising in July, which marked one of the biggest private financing rounds for a European biotechnology company in history.

The fundraising was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with participation from both new and existing investors, including the Strüngmann Family Office.

Şahin and Türeci are now among the 100 richest Germans, according to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

RELATIONSHIP WITH PFIZER

BioNTech 22UA, 3.86% has had a relationship with Pfizer 0Q1N, +1.13% since 2018, when the U.S. drugmaker agreed to pay the German company up to $425 million in an alliance to develop mRNA-based vaccines for the prevention of influenza.

In March this year, Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans to jointly develop a COVID-19 vaccine. “We believe that by pairing Pfizer’s development, regulatory and commercial capabilities with BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine technology and expertise as one of the industry leaders, we are reinforcing our commitment to do everything we can to combat this escalating pandemic, as quickly as possible,” said Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, at the time.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — called BNT162 — uses messenger RNA (mRNA), the molecules in cells that control protein production, to teach the immune system to make coronavirus-fighting antibodies. The mRNA technology is also being used by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna MRNA, -2.17% and CureVac CVAC, +12.14%.

Read: CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine shows immune response in Phase 1 trial

BioNTech and Pfizer will split the gross profits of the vaccine equally. BioNTech said that the vaccine will be priced “well below typical market rates.” 

“BioNTech has been a loss-making company since our inception 12 years ago and we’ve invested over $1 billion to develop our mRNA technology platform,” Ryan Richardson, head of strategy at BioNTech, told a Financial Times conference on Tuesday.

VACCINE PRODUCTION

BioNTech and Pfizer are continuing to accumulate safety data and expect to apply for emergency use authorization in the U.S. soon after that.

Based on current projections, Pfizer said it expects to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
The investigational vaccine is a two-dose vaccine, so the first batch would likely be given to roughly 25 million people. 

In June, BioNTech signed a €100 million debt financing agreement with the European Investment Bank for the development of its experimental shot, to help scale-up its commercial manufacturing capacity. 

In September, it also received €375 million in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to support its COVID-19 vaccine program.

That same month, it announced the acquisition of a manufacturing site in Marburg in western Germany from Swiss pharma group Novartis. The state-of-the art facility is expected to expand BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine production capacity by up to 750 million doses a year, or more than 60 million doses a month, once fully operational, BioNTech said.

BioNTech, which itself employs around 1,400 staff, already has two other sites in Germany producing the vaccine candidate for clinical trials, in addition to at least four Pfizer production sites in the U.S. and Europe.

DEAL WITH CHINA

BioNTech’s vaccine partnership with Pfizer covers the entire global market except China, where it partners with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical 600196, +0.24%. BioNTech said in August that Hong Kong and Macau, China’s autonomous territories, have ordered 10 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine. It has signed a letter of intent to allow Hong Kong’s Jacobson Pharma to distribute the vaccine locally once it is available.

Guo Guangchang, the billionaire chairman of Fosun International FOSUF, -2.07%, said on Nov. 6. that he was hopeful that the Pfizer-BioNTech experimental vaccine will become available in China as soon as it is made available in the U.S. and Europe.

“We hope the market launch of the vaccine in China will be held at the same time as in the U.S. and Europe,” he told the South China Morning Post on Friday. “Or, at least, the timing of its launch in China will be just a little bit behind them.”

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