COVID-19 Vaccine Creators Take on Cancer in National Geographic Documentary

The creators of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will take on cancer in National Geographic documentary “The Cancer Vaccine” (working title).

The documentary will follow Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci – the husband-and-wife team who built German biotechnology giant BioNTech – as they and their team race competitors, skeptics, governments and cancer itself to create an entirely new class of medicines that use the body’s own defenses to defeat cancer.

The documentary posits a world where a cancer diagnosis – even the most aggressive kind – no longer means brutal chemotherapy or a death sentence and a world where every individual cancer patient gets a bespoke drug, individually tailored to the unique genetics of their tumor, which could keep patients cancer-free for the rest of their lives. It aims to take viewers to the frontlines of breakthrough science alongside the scientists, researchers and patients at the heart of this endeavor.

The film begins with the story of Şahin and Türeci’s fight against COVID-19 with the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. For years the couple had been derided as cranks; and mRNA, the technology that they championed, deemed useless. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic proved that mRNA could work and deliver a vaccine that would protect millions of people around the world against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

However, a cancerous tumor is a far harder foe than a coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is the same person to person, but every tumor is different in everyone who suffers from it – which is why most current treatments only work in a fraction of the people to whom they are administered, and usually only then if the cancer is caught early. So far early patient trial results are encouraging. Pancreatic cancer kills 88% of patients within three months of diagnosis. Half the patients in BioNTech’s Phase 1 trial continued to show no sign of relapse 18 months after they were first treated.

The documentary is directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Patrick Forbes (“The Phantom,” “Wikileaks: Secrets and Lies”). From National Geographic Content, it is produced in partnership with Oxford Films (“Hilary and Jackie,” “Restoration,” “Diana, Our Mother”). For Oxford Films, Nick Kent and Simon Finch are executive producers. For National Geographic, Simon Raikes is commissioning editor.

Tom McDonald, executive VP of global factual and unscripted content, National Geographic, said: “’The Cancer Vaccine’ will give viewers a front-row seat to one of the biggest events in history unfolding in real time – the scientists racing to find a potential cure for cancer. With unprecedented inside access, we are honored to be able to shine a light on the heroes – the scientists, patients and people, who are working to combat this disease that affects far too many of our friends, families and neighbors.”

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