Financial History 140 Winter 2022 - Page 30

CEO Ugur Şahin ( L ) and CMO Özlem Türeci ( C ), founders of BioNTech , show German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chancellery Minister Helge Braun ( R ) various stages of the BioNTech / Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine production , during the Chancellor ’ s visit to the BioNTech Vaccine Production Plant on August 19 , 2021 in Marburg , Germany .
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IPO or slash its price , hoping enough investors would then be interested . Some of the executives huddled around him , while others sat in their open , black van , hiding from the burning sun . It had been a long trip and they were ready to go home .
“ We need to decide ,” Şahin told his team . It wasn ’ t a hard decision . His company needed the money and had to sell the shares , no matter the price . A few days later , Şahin rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange , a wan smile on his face . The company raised $ 150 million in the IPO , just over half what it had hoped to collect . Even with the discounted price , shares of Şahin ’ s company fell more than 5 % on their first day of trading .
He didn ’ t mind the reaction from investors . Someday , they and others would fully appreciate what he and his company was trying to do . Şahin was sure of it .
• • •
Stéphane Bancel faced even more serious doubts in late 2019 . A 47-year-old native of France with full lips , a cleft chin , and a taste for Steve Jobs – inspired turtleneck shirts , Bancel had spent eight years running a Boston-based biotech company called Moderna .
By then , Bancel was better known for his powers of persuasion than for any kind of scientific achievement . Bancel had a unique ability to convince investors that Moderna would succeed in its quest to develop safe and effective vaccines and drugs using mRNA . Much of the scientific community snickered at the idea , however . They all knew that mRNA was too unstable to create proteins in the body , at least on a consistent and reliable basis .
If anyone was going to find a way to make mRNA work , it surely wasn ’ t going to be someone like Bancel , the skeptics said . They all knew the stories from the early days at Moderna , when Bancel regularly ripped into his employees , leaving them on edge .
“ Fifty percent of you won ’ t be around in a year ,” Bancel once said matter-of-factly in a meeting to nervous staffers .
By 2019 , Bancel was more even keeled . He had built a loyal team and had inspired them with the promise of what mRNA could do . At one point , he told them , their technology would save lives .
“ We ’ re going to be the company that can respond to a crisis ,” he told staffers . But outside scientists , investors and some journalists were sure Bancel was exaggerating his company ’ s potential . A few years earlier , a respected scientific publication had even compared Bancel to Elizabeth
28 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Winter 2022 | www . MoAF . org