Radio Podcast on DLF about the BioNtech documentary
Arte Documentary about BioNTech
A Revolution in Medicine at the Speed of Light
The Arte documentary “A Vaccine at Lightspeed (The BioNTech Project)” (German title : “Mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit zum Impfstoff (Das Projekt BioNTech)„) covers BioNTech’s rapid development of its vaccine against Covid-19. For this, filmmaker Michael Schindhelm accompanied its Founders Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, and their research team, with his camera.
Trained quantum chemist and cultural manager Michael Schindhelm uses his eye to document the journey of the founding couple Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci and their remarkable achievements with BioNTech. The film will be screened and streamed tonight concurrently on Arte Mediathek and its TV channel.
Although the two researchers were extremely busy and in the midst of developing the vaccine against Covid-19, Schindhelm was able to conduct numerous conversations with Sahin and Türeci, who appear in the documentary to explain how they were able to develop a vaccine so quickly.
A Decision Aided by Mathematics
The two BioNTech founders originally began their research in cancer therapies. In January 2020, in view of the global outbreak of Coronavirus, they radically changed their entire business model to further develop an mRNA vaccine, says Schindhelm.
In the film, Sahin, a medical doctor, tells of this upheaval and justifies his decision by saying that as a mathematician he relies on things that are beyond human experience. It was Mathematics, he says, which helped him realise at that early stage that the pandemic would lead to many deaths all over the world. This was all based on publicly available data.
“Then, they made that decision,” says Schindhelm. This opportunity to take a step back from everyday life and focus even on scientific connections helped to develop a vaccine in the “eye of the typhoon” which became globally important and put them on the world map, he says. “It’s a great talent that the two of them have.”
The Courage to Take Risks
The pair had to raise between 1.5 to 2 billion US Dollars during the vaccine development because time was so pressing, he said. “If they had received news in November 2020 that the vaccine’s efficacy was low, the effort and money would have been gone,” the filmmaker said. That would have put a serious kink in the researchers’ careers and for the company.
“They have always been aware of the risks associated with this adventure,” Schindhelm says of the medical researchers, “They knew how much was at stake and what it meant for the world.” Still, he says, the scientists had great confidence in their technology and their own knowledge of it. The documentary also shows the passionate and highly driven team of experts that helped make this possible.
Understanding for vaccination sceptics
In the film, he also talks to Sahin and Türeci about vaccination opponents. “They are convinced that everyone has to decide for themselves whether they want to expose themselves to an invasive measure or not.” At the same time, they say, the researchers are convinced that people should get vaccinated.
The scientists began adapting their vaccine early on so that young children and pregnant women could also benefit, Schindhelm said. “We still have a lot of innovation to come from Biontech and from them in this regard.”
The BioNTech film by Michael Schindhelm “Mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit zum Impfstoff (Das Projekt BioNTech)„ is available to stream online in German and French here @linktr.ee/project.biontech
An English language version will be available by Nov 21: See all screening times on DW Deutsche Welle
Photo: Yawen Schindhelm-Yeo