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A Vaccine for Cancer? COVID Scientist Thinks So

Ozlem Tureci, founder of BioNTech, says shots to fight tumors could be in the offing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 19, 2021 12:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge—cancer. Ozlem Tureci, who co-founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, Ugur Sahin, was working on a way to harness the body's immune system to tackle tumors when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China, per the AP. Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they'd been researching for two decades to the new threat, dubbing the effort “Project Lightspeed.” Within 11 months, Britain had authorized the use of the mRNA vaccine BioNTech developed with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, followed a week later by the United States.

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"It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time," says Tureci in an interview in Berlin. The vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and US rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors. Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said "that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people." (Click to read the full interview.)

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