BioNTech, firm behind Pfizer's COVID-19 jab, develops potential vaccine for multiple sclerosis

Saleha Riaz
·3-min read
Clinical trials on mice revealed the jab not only stopped the disease from progressing but restored some motor skills which had been lost. Photo: Getty Images
Clinical trials on mice revealed the jab not only stopped the disease from progressing but restored some motor skills which had been lost. Photo: Getty Images

The scientists at Germany’s BioNTech (BNTX) who helped develop a coronavirus jab with US pharma company Pfizer (PFE) have used the same technology to develop a vaccine which they say cures multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice.

Both use a piece of genetic material called mRNA that is injected into a person's arm and forces the body's cells to produce a protein that help against the respective diseases for which the jab has been developed.

In the case of COVID-19, if a person later contracts the disease, the immune system is able to quickly fight it by creating antibodies before the virus can spread.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin led research showing that an mRNA vaccine might also work in multiple sclerosis, Fierce Biotech, a pharma news outlet, reported.

Sahin's team showed that an mRNA vaccine encoding a disease-related autoantigen successfully improved MS symptoms in sick animals and prevented disease progression in rodents showing early signs of MS.

Sahin, along with colleagues at BioNTech and scientists at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, hypothesised that an mRNA vaccine could help the immune system tolerate specific MS-related proteins without compromising normal immune function.

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With the MS vaccine, the mRNA technology stops the body's immune system from attacking neurons in the brain and spinal cord which can lead to the loss of bodily function.

Clinical trials on mice revealed the jab not only stopped the disease from progressing but restored some motor skills which had been lost.

The German startup has been at the forefront of the vaccine race.

It announced on Tuesday that it plans to supply an additional 700 million doses of its 19 COVID-10 vaccine thanks to a new factory in Germany and new European guidelines that allow for an extra shot to be extracted from each vial.

It, along with Pfizer, had originally pledged to make 1.3 billion doses in 2021 but now believes it can provide as many as 2 billion.

Last month, the UK became the first western country to grant emergency authorisation of the COVID-19 vaccine it created.

Sahin has previously expressed confidence that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against a new mutation of the disease that recently emerged out of the UK.

Earlier this year, BioNTech warned that there would be gaps in the supply of its vaccines until others are rolled out, as it continues to work with Pfizer to boost production.

The company has been slow to provide its shot in the European Union due to late approval from the bloc’s health regulator — the European Medicines Agency — and the small size of the order placed by Brussels.

Sahin told Germany’s Spiegel: “At the moment it doesn’t look good – a hole is appearing because there’s a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine.”

While the United States ordered some 600 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer shot in July last year, the EU placed an order for only half that size in November.

The UK ordered 40 million doses in total, enough to inoculate 20 million people, under a third of the total population of 67 million.

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