The UK government announced a collaboration with the German firm BioNTech on Friday to test potential vaccines for cancer and other diseases, as campaigners warned that any breakthrough must be affordable and accessible.
Patients with cancer in England will have early access to trials involving personalized mRNA therapies, such as 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, targeting both active cancer cells and preventing their return.
BioNTech will establish new research and development centers in the United Kingdom, with a lab in Cambridge and headquarters in London, with the goal of delivering 10,000 therapies to patients by the end of the decade.
Along with Pfizer, the company developed one of the most widely distributed Covid-19 vaccines. Its CEO, Ugur Sahin, stated that the coronavirus pandemic had taught it valuable lessons about collaboration between the British National Health Service, academics, regulators, and the private sector in drug development, which it was now putting into practice.
“Our goal is to accelerate the development of immunotherapies and vaccines using technologies we have been researching for over 20 years,” he said in a statement. “The collaboration will cover various cancer types and infectious diseases affecting collectively hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”
Peter Johnson, Britain’s National Clinical Director for Cancer, said mRNA technology had the potential to transform approaches to a number of illnesses.
The government confirmed the announcement represented a private investment into the U.K., but would be supported by a new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad funded by the NHS.
Other mRNA cancer vaccines are being tested, including a collaboration between Moderna and Merck in the United States.
According to Tim Bierley, a campaigner with the U.K.-based group Global Justice Now, big pharmaceutical companies have a “terrible record of price gouging on new medicines, even when public money has played a key role in bringing them to market.”
“The government has a moral duty to push BioNtech to set the price of this potentially life-saving vaccine so it is accessible to all,” he said.
Mohga Kamal-Yanni, policy co-lead for the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of health organizations, economists, and activists, said the trial’s findings were encouraging, but that any outcome “belongs to the people” because of the amount of public money involved.
“The U.K. government must say how it will ensure any new medicine, vaccine or technology will be made available and affordable to developing countries,” Kamal-Yanni said.
A government spokesperson stated that the research was too early to discuss pricing and distribution, but cited the government’s track record of providing free Covid-19 vaccines.
(Adapted from from News.Sky.com)