Pfizer announces joint venture to develop coronavirus vaccine

18 Mar 2020

Image: © Firn/

Pfizer and BioNTech are joining forces to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Pfizer and German firm BioNTech have signed a letter of intent to co-develop a potential mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine in a bid to prevent Covid-19 infection, and distribute it in markets outside China.

The partnership will look to accelerate the development of BioNTech’s potential vaccine programme, dubbed BNT162, which is expected to enter clinical testing by the end of April this year. The work follows on from Pfizer and BioNTech’s previous collaboration, signed in 2018, to develop mRNA-based vaccines to treat influenza.

These types of vaccines do not rely on samples of the coronavirus to be effective. Rather, it aims to use RNA to accelerate the production of proteins similar in composition to the virus, which could be used to trigger the body’s immune system to fight the actual virus.

“This is a global pandemic, which requires a global effort. In joining forces with our partner Pfizer, we believe we can accelerate our effort to bring a Covid-19 vaccine to people around the world who need it,” said Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech.

Not the only vaccine in development

The companies will share research between teams in both the US and Germany, with collaboration to begin immediately. However, financial terms and commercialisation rights still need to be finalised over the coming weeks.

Pfizer and BioNTech are not the only large healthcare companies working towards a vaccine, with biotech giant Regeneron announcing that it hopes to start human trials for a potential Covid-19 vaccine this summer.

The company said it plans to start large-scale manufacturing by the middle of April based on a therapy developed to create a drug to treat Ebola.

“Given the tremendous interest and concern around the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be providing regular and transparent updates on our discovery and development programs,” said George Yancopoulos, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron.

Elsewhere, the US National Institutes of Health began its first clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine on 16 March. According to AP, it could take between one year and 18 months before the effectiveness of the vaccine can be determined.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic