Stocks rallied on Monday after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced positive results from phase three trials of its Covid-19 vaccine — developed in partnership with German biotech outfit BioNTech — indicating that it could be 90% effective against the coronavirus. The news drove a 14% surge in BioNTech shares as of 1:30 pm ET, lifting the fortunes of its billionaire founder, Uğur Şahin, and the firm’s largest investors, the German billionaire brothers Thomas and Andreas Struengmann.
The soaring stock price boosted Şahin’s net worth by more than $500 million to about $4.4 billion, while the Struengmann brothers collectively added nearly $1.5 billion to their fortunes, with each now worth an estimated $10.4 billion. Şahin, 54, first joined the three-comma-club earlier this year when — much like today’s rally — BioNTech shares rose on the back of positive news from its vaccine collaboration with Pfizer.
Şahin founded BioNTech in the west German city of Mainz in 2008 with the backing of the Struengmann brothers, who had already invested in an earlier company founded by Şahin (and his wife, immunologist Özlem Türeci) in 2001. That firm, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, was sold to Astellas Pharmaceuticals in 2016 for $460 million (plus an additional $940 million if certain milestones were met). It was yet another successful exit for the twin billionaire healthcare investors, who first made their fortunes with Hexal, the generic drugmaker they founded in 1986 and then sold to Novartis for about $7 billion in 2005.
Unlike earlier vaccines, which relied on weakened forms of a virus to spur immunity, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA — the molecules in cells that control protein production — to direct the immune system to make coronavirus-fighting antibodies. It’s a new technology that’s also being pioneered by Cambridge-based biotech firm Moderna, which saw its stock rise by 9% as of 1:30 pm ET on Monday.
Moderna’s share price has been on a tear since January thanks to its own Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which is currently in phase three trials. That growth has already minted two new billionaires this year — CEO Stéphane Bancel, with a net worth of $2.4 billion, and Harvard professor Dr. Timothy Springer, with a net worth of $1.3 billion. It could soon produce another: MIT professor Bob Langer, an early investor in Moderna like Springer, is currently worth an estimated $930 million.
Pfizer’s announcement drove broader optimism among investors that a post-Covid world was within reach, with the stock market punishing firms such as Zoom and Amazon that had benefited from consumers confined to their homes. The fortune of Zoom CEO and founder Eric Yuan took a hit on Monday as Zoom stock tumbled 14%, slashing his net worth by $3 billion to $18.9 billion as of 1:30 pm ET. Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet with a net worth of $188.8 billion, also saw his fortune decline by $4.6 billion as Amazon shares fell by 2.5%.