Thessaloniki native Dr. Albert Bourla, the CEO of the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, is one of the many scientists worldwide who dedicated their entire lives since the Spring of 2020 to finding an effective vaccine for the coronavirus.
And with the news around the world noting the great success of the vaccination campaigns — with people as young as 12 receiving Pfizer inoculations now — the company, along with all the others producing vaccines, have given an enormous boost to the morale of the whole world, allowing us all to believe across this entire pandemic-ravaged globe that there is truly light at the end of the tunnel.
If the vaccine can be approved and manufactured quickly, it may be the brilliant minds at Pfizer, among all the scientists around the globe who have all been working feverishly to come up with a safe and effective vaccine, who are able to give that great gift to humanity.
An announcement back in the Autumn of 2020 touted that the new vaccine, developed in a joint venture with the German firm BioNTech, was 95% effective, leading for the first time to a solid hope, bordering on belief, that there would soon be an end to the bane that has rocked the world in the past year since it had first appeared in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.
In an interview with CNBC’s Meg Tirrell, the normally reserved scientist described the results of the clinical trials, saying “It is a great day for science and humanity.”
“It is a great day for humanity,” Bourla said, “when you realize your vaccine has 90% effectiveness. That’s overwhelming. You understand that the hopes of billions of people and millions of businesses and hundreds of governments that were felt on our shoulders. Now… I think we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
The trials, involving two groups of volunteers, including those who had been vaccinated and a control group which received a placebo shot, proved that the vaccine was at least 90% effective in humans after the second shot is received, and was 95% effective in some circumstances.
This meant that individuals could be substantially protected from the disease just 28 days after their first shot, although full protection an only be achieved 14 days after the reception of the second shot.
The scientists working for both firms hoped that the last stage of the study will be completed by the end of the month of November 2020, Bourla stated at the time.
However, Pfizer and BioNTech had to still apply for emergency use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to begin marketing and distributing the vaccine.
In another CNBC interview, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, stated that the vaccine could be available on a limited basis as early as late December and it could be widely available by the third quarter of 2021.
And that is what came to pass, with healthcare workers in the United States receiving their first dose in December and January. But the vaccine rollout has been even faster in the US than Gottlieb had predicted; by May 11, 2021 a total of 265 million doses of coronavirus vaccines had been administered in the US and 1.37 billion worldwide. Now, 35.8% of all Americans over age 12 are fully vaccinated with 118 million citizens fully vaccinated in the US.
Pfizer CEO Bourla, the Man Behind the Vaccine
Pfizer has throughout its more than 100 years of history developed and produced medicines and vaccines for a wide range of medical needs and applications.
During his more than a quarter century at the Pharma giant, the Thessaloniki researcher 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.
The Pfizer CEO began his career as a doctor of veterinary science in 1993 in the Animal Health Division as Technical Director of Greece.
By 2001, he had moved to Pfizer headquarters in New York, where he took the reins in the Animal Health Division, including Director of Marketing in the US in 2004, and also as the Vice President of New Product Marketing from 2004-2006.
Bourla also served as the President of Animal Health Europe, Africa and the Middle East from 2006-2009. In 2009, he took on additional responsibilities for the regions of Asia and the Pacific for Pfizer. By 2014 he was named President of the Department of Oncology and Vaccines at the firm, and two years later he was appointed as the head of Innovative Products in Oncology, Immunology, Rare Diseases, Vaccines.
In 2018 he was appointed COO and was elected a member of the Board of Directors of the company, and since January 1, 2019, Bourlas has been at the helm of the pharmaceutical giant as its CEO.
Bourla was also named America’s Top Managing Director of Pharmaceuticals by Institutional Investor magazine.
The CEO emphasized in a 2020 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.
“The only rival is the virus”
Referring to the unprecedented cooperation between pharmaceutical firms which are normally in competition with each other, Bourla stated at the time 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 as the Winter closed in, Bourla explained that they had already recorded the results from 25,000 subjects.
“Operation Warp Speed”
Pfizer began testing four different coronavirus vaccines in May of 2020 — a mere year ago. 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 stipulated that the government may acquire another 500 million doses of a proven vaccine on top of that number.
CEO Albert Bourla’s Home City of Thessaloniki to Become New Digital Hub for Pfizer
Just last August, the brilliant scientist had met with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis as a result of the Greek leader’s efforts to set up a digital hub in Thessaloniki, the city of his birth, which is to be one of just six that Pfizer will establish all over the world.
At that time, the PM had stated that “Creating the right environment for attracting investment is a top priority for the Government” and added that “Greece could become Europe’s success story.”
The digital research hub will focus on artificial intelligence and big data analytics, helping to develop technology that can be incorporated into Pfizer’s development pipeline of medicines and vaccines.
“There is a high concentration of digital talent in Greece,” a company spokesperson told an interviewer at FierceMedTech.
“Pfizer plans to partner with universities and local innovation incubators to assemble a world-class team in Thessaloniki — one that will help us further advance our purpose: breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” the spokesperson added.
Mitsotakis thanked the company, which specializes in the production of pharmaceuticals, adding that Greece could become a hub for health technology entrepreneurship with the creation of a new product research and development lab, that will help improve the quality of people’s lives.
Moreover, he stressed the need for making use of the know-how of Greek scientists specializing in digital technology, pointing out that Greece has talented people who work hard as well as good academics who are distinguished abroad. “Our country is capable of becoming a centre of excellence in the field of clinical studies,” Mitsotakis stated.
He also noted that investment interest in Greece is constantly increasing and he wished that Pfizer’s initiative to expand its presence will motivate more companies to follow this example. He stressed that this is the reason why it is very important for Greece to send the message that it has learned its lesson.
It has suffered a great deal, he stated, but it has become more mature, adding that economic and political stability is its main priority.
Pfizer’s new facility became operational in 2020, providing up to 200 jobs.
At the time of his most recent trip to Greece, Bourla was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the Department of Medicine of the School of Health Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.