Pfizer And BioNTech Using mRNA Breakthrough From COVID-19 Vaccine To Develop New Shingles Shot

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The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid booster to include 16- and 17-year-olds
The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid booster to include 16- and 17-year-olds

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday a joint effort to create a single shingles shot using the same mRNA breakthroughs that created the COVID-19 vaccines developed by their partnership, Moderna, and others.

Shingles, a chronic form of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), affects 1 in 3 people in the U.S. in their lifetime. According to a press release, the development of the new shingles shot uses mRNA breakthroughs in vaccine technology that show how COVID-19 is already impacting society.

mRNA vaccine technology is being applied to many vaccines in the future, supplying an extra layer of effective protection for future generations of the vaccinated population. The point of mRNA vaccines is to teach cells how to make proteins that trigger an immune response, unlike earlier versions of vaccines that put a weakened or inactive germ into the body to teach it to fight an infection or virus.


The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in a lower dosage and comes in a paediatric vial with an orange cap
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in a lower dosage and comes in a paediatric vial with an orange cap
Photo: AFP / Tobias SCHWARZ

While scientists worked on the mRNA technology for decades, it did not become widely available to the public until the COVID-19 pandemic. Mikael Dolsten, the Chief Scientific Officer and President of Worldwide Research, Development, and Medical at Pfizer, said in the press release that the mRNA technology developed during the pandemic has unlimited possibilities for the future of vaccines.

That expansion of possibilities is done “by advancing mRNA technology to tackle another health challenge [shingles] ripe for scientific innovation,” he said.

VZV produces a chickenpox infection that later in life is reactivated in the form of shingles, which can be triggered by immunocompromising circumstances, including stress. The CDC claims that 99% of people in the U.S. ages 40 and over have had chickenpox, even if they do not remember, leaving a vast majority of the population vulnerable to shingles.

Ugur Sahin, CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech, said of the next collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech that “adults aged 50 years and older, as well as vulnerable populations like cancer patients, are at an increased risk of shingles. Our goal is to develop an mRNA vaccine with a favorable safety profile and high efficacy, which is at the same time more easily scalable to support global access.”

The agreement states that Pfizer will pay BioNTech $225 million in upfront payments, $75 million in cash payments, and an equity investment of $150 million. BioNTech will also be able to receive regulatory and sales milestone payments of $200 million. BioNTech also pays Pfizer $25 million for its proprietary antigen tech.

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