3 Questions with Ben Osborn, UK Country Manager and Managing Director, Pfizer UK

23rd September 2021

The University of the West of England (UWE), in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with Ben Osborn, UK Country Manager and Managing Director of Pfizer UK, before his virtual address.

1. How was the Pfizer vaccine developed?

Our COVID-19 vaccine was developed in partnership with a German biotech company called BionTech. 

We started a partnership with them in early 2020 to look at a series of different mRNA platforms.

There are many different types of vaccines available across the world, but they all have the same goal, which is to train your immune system to recognise and defend against viruses that cause disease.

Our vaccine contains information directly from the virus as genetic code, which essentially then helps to train the body’s immune system to respond to the virus should it encounter it in the future.

In developing the vaccine, we recognised that we were going to have to move faster than the virus itself to create a safe and effective vaccine, and, really importantly, to ensure our vaccine could reach all nations across the world. 

2. What are the complications of developing a vaccine in response to a pandemic?

In this particular situation with COVID-19 it was all about speed.

We needed to collaborate with scientists and organisations across the globe at unprecedented speed; at a pace that we’d never worked at before.

But even though we were working at this pace, it was all about safety and efficacy of the vaccine that we were going to develop.

We took no shortcuts and we couldn’t forget that ultimately, most importantly, there were patients at the end of this scientific work, so speed never came at the expense of patient safety.

Typically, it takes 10 years or so to develop a vaccine. In this case we did it in 9 months.

The race against the virus meant that we were compelled to operate differently, so much of the work that we did in this case was in parallel rather than in sequence. We worked much more closely with regulators, governments and healthcare systems around the world than I think we’ve ever worked before.

3. What message would you give to those that are sceptical about the vaccination programme?

I’ve regularly had questions from friends, family, neighbours and strangers about the safety of vaccines and I’m delighted that they’re taking the time and want to really understand what goes into making a safe and effective vaccine.

The most important thing to understand is, after the provision of clean water and sanitation, vaccination has saved more lives globally than any other public health intervention.

And vaccines only end up being utilised once they’ve gone through extremely rigorous clinical trials, which are independently assessed, then through an extremely robust regulatory process. Again, totally independent of any government, any healthcare system and of course independent of any pharmaceutical and life science company. 

So, it’s independence that I think we can all take reassurance in. In terms of understanding the data both during the development of a vaccine and subsequently in terms of surveillance once the vaccine reaches populations across the globe.

This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Ben Osborn’s lecture here. If you’d like to hear about upcoming events in Bristol Distinguished Address Series, please visit www.uwe.ac.uk/bdas or email events@uwe.ac.uk.

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