Just as the novel coronavirus was gaining a foothold in the United States in mid-March, Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla called on his top vaccine scientists and laid out a clear mission:
“He basically said, ‘Your mandate is to get this vaccine made. And if you need resources, you come and you ask for them, and you're going to get them’,” chief viral vaccine scientist Philip Dormitzer told Reuters.
The assignment was both inspiring and daunting. It provided researchers with the backing to tackle something that had never been done before: design a vaccine to stop a pandemic in its tracks in less than a year.
“He did not want us to focus on the potential barriers we might face, but instead said that it is much better to try to do something that seemed impossible, and even if you don’t succeed, you still (will) have done something great, ” said Dormitzer, noting that new vaccine development can cost about US$1 billion (RM4.12 billion).
What followed was a full-bore effort carried out under strict coronavirus lockdown conditions, borrowing elements from ongoing flu and cancer research, according to Reuters interviews with half a dozen scientists critical to the vaccine program run by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE...