Thessaloniki native Albert Bourlas, who originally studied as a veterinary doctor in Greece, is now spearheading the fight to produce a coronavirus vaccine for Pfizer, the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation headquartered in New York City.
One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer was ranked 57 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue in 2018.
And the stakes couldn’t be any higher in the race to produce a vaccine for the virus that has been a scourge across the entire world in 2020. During his more than a quarter century at the Pharma giant, the Thessaloniki researcher has held a number of senior global positions, including as COO, when he was responsible for overseeing the company’s commercial strategy, manufacturing, and global product development functions.
He began his Pfizer career in 1993 in the Animal Health Division as Technical Director of Greece. The company develops and produces medicines and vaccines for a wide range of medical needs and applications.
Bourlas emphasized in a recent interview with NBC’s TODAY program that there would be no rushing of a potential vaccine through the process, and that Pfizer would “wait for science to confirm the results” of clinical trials.
Albert Bourlas: “The only rival is the virus”
Referring to the unprecedented cooperation between pharmaceutical firms which are normally in competition with each other, Bourlas stated that “the only rival here is the virus, and the time to get the vaccine (to the public).”
He added that “it is an unprecedented moment, an historic place” in which his company is operating, standing together as one with other pharmaceutical firms. He then noted “We saw it as critical to come out and reiterate our commitment that we will develop our products, our vaccines, to the highest ethical standards and with the most scientifically-rigorous processes.”
Asked when this might take place, considering the pressing need for a vaccine with the onset of influenza season upon us, Bourlas explained that they had already recorded the results from 25,000 subjects and that there was a 60% likelihood that there would be an answer to whether or not it was safe and effective by the end of October.
He reiterated that this was only a projection, and of course does not mean that there would be a vaccine ready for distribution at that time.
Operation Warp Speed
This past May, Pfizer began testing four different coronavirus vaccines. In July, the United States Health and Human Services Department, along with the Department of Defense, entered into an agreement with Pfizer, under the auspices of the government’s project entitled “Operation Warp Speed” for the “large-scale production and delivery” of 100 million doses of a vaccine which Pfizer would develop.
The unprecedented agreement also stipulates that the government may acquire another 500 million doses of a proven vaccine on top of that number.
Of course, this is all contingent upon the successful completion of the third phase of a vaccine’s clinical trials. By the end of July, however, Pfizer and one of its vaccine partners, the German firm BioNTech announced that two of its new vaccines had already won fast-track designation by the FDA.
The Phase Three testing is progressing, with 30,000 individuals currently taking part in the crucial trials. Pfizer has stated that the price for two doses would be $39.00.
This month, the company, along with BioNTech, announced that they had completed talks with the European Commission to provide the EU with 200 million doses, with the option for another 100 million to be provided later.
In response to those who may be skeptical of a vaccine and shy away from taking it, Bourlas said that he would like them to know that he understood their feelings.
“However, ” he said, “they need to know that their decision (whether or not to take the vaccine) will not only affect their lives, which, at the end of the day, is their judgement; it will affect the lives of others. Because if they don’t vaccinate, they will become the weak link that will allow the virus to replicate.”
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