Cancer vaccine could be available before 2030, says scientist couple behind COVID-19 shot

Cancer vaccine could be available before 2030, says scientist couple behind COVID-19 shot
An employee holds up a vial of an oncological product under development, at the BioNTech research institute in Mainz, Germany, on October 5, 2022.ANDRE PAIN/AFP via Getty Images
  • Professors Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin co-founded BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to develop a COVID-19 shot.
  • The scientists told the BBC's "Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg" that a vaccine against cancer is on the horizon.

The husband-and-wife team who co-founded BioNTech, the biotechnology company that partnered with Pfizer to develop an effective messenger-RNA (mRNA) shot against COVID-19, has predicted that a cancer vaccine could be widely available within the next decade.

"Yes, we feel that a cure for cancer, or to changing cancer patients' lives, is in our grasp," said Professor Ozlem Tureci during an interview on BBC's "Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg."

The cancer vaccine, which would build upon breakthroughs achieved by the scientists during the development of the COVID-19 shot, may be widely available within just eight years, said Professor Ugur Sahin.

"We believe that this will happen, definitely, before 2030," he told Keunssberg.

Cancer vaccine could be available before 2030, says scientist couple behind COVID-19 shot
BioNTech co-founders Professor Ozlem Tureci, left, and Dr. Ugur Sahin, right.David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The hope is that a vaccine currently in development would train the body to recognize and attack cancers using mRNA technology.


"The goal that we have is that can we use the individualized vaccine approach to ensure that directly after surgery, patients receive a personalized, individualized vaccine, and we induce an immune response that so the T-cells in the body of the patient can screen the body for remaining tumor cells and ideally eliminate the tumor cells," Sahin explained.

BioNTech originally focused on developing mRNA-based technologies for a patient-specific approach to cancer treatment, per The New York Times.

Turecia told Keunssberg that their experiences working in cancer wards as young physicians, who were frustrated at being unable to offer treatment to oncology patients, drove them toward their work in cancer research.

That work was the "tailwind" for the COVID-19 shot development, which, in turn, now "gives back" to their cancer research, said Tureci.

Keunssberg asked the couple if there was "still a chance" that the cancer vaccine doesn't work.


"I don't think so," replied Tureci. "Everything we have learned about the immune system and about what we achieve with a cancer vaccine shows, in principle, the clear activity — we can induce those killer T-cells, we can direct them."

Tureci said that it remains to be seen how doctors would use other types of medical interventions in combination with the vaccine and what else needs to be tweaked to ensure that patients are cured.

"Every step and every patient we treat in these cancer trials helps us to understand more about what we are against and how to address that," said Tureci.