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New vaccine billionaires gain wealth as Moderna and BioNTech shares soar

The soaring shares of vaccine makers has created a new wave of billionaires, raising questions about pandemic profits amidst an increasingly unequal recovery.

The surge in shares of BioNTech, the German biotech firm that’s partnering with Pfizer on its vaccine, has created $4 billion in added wealth for its CEO and founder, Ugur Sahin. He is now the 451st richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, with $5.5 billion.

The two early investors in BioNTech have done even better. German twins Thomas and Andreas Strungmann both have added $8 billion to their net worths this year, making each worth about $12.7 billion.

The contrast between drug founders making billions from a vaccine while millions of Americans remain out of work and suffering the health effects of the pandemic has led to criticism.

“No one begrudges the drug companies for making a reasonable profit on this vaccine,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of the book “Billionaire Bonanza 2020.” “But having some profiteers grab billions while the essential workers risk their lives, health and livelihoods undermines the deep solidarity and shared sacrifice for us to weather this winter of pain.”

Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech.

Andreas Arnold | picture alliance | Getty Images

Moderna, the Massachusetts-based drugmaker that is also developing a vaccine, has seen its shares increase more than eight-fold this year and has minted at least three new billionaires. CEO Stephane Bancel has gained $4.8 billion in wealth this year, giving him a net worth of $5.3 billion. According to regulatory filings, he has also cashed out of nearly $30 million in stock this year.

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna Therapeutics Inc., stands for a photograph at the company’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.

Adam Glanzman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Harvard biology professor Tim Springer, who made a $5 million investment in Moderna to help launch the company in 2010, has gained more than $2 billion in wealth from Moderna’s rise. And MIT professor Robert Langer has become a billionaire, with over $1.5 billion in gains from Moderna.

Springer told Forbes he still rides his bike to work every day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lives a modest life. He is giving some of his fortune to a new nonprofit institute that studies protein science to help create new antibodies.

“I like gardening and collecting rocks,” he told Forbes. “I don’t need the money.” 

Portrait of Robert Langer in his Cape Cod residence in North Falmouth, MA on April 25, 2020.

Barry Chin | Boston Globe | Getty Images

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