n total, 10 pharmaceutical industry billionaires saw their fortunes grow as a result of the humanitarian crisis produced by COVID-19; however, only five of them saw a viable business opportunity in Mexico. These are the cofounder and CEO of the company BioNTech S.E., Uğur Şahin; Moderna executive director and founder Stephane Bancel; Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, also of BioNTech S.E.; and Cyrus Poonawalla, president and owner of the firm Serum Institute of India.
And although the Mexican government reports, through its Office of Foreign Affairs (Spanish acronym SRE), that as of the last cutoff on March 9, 2022, it has received a total of 225,615,255 doses of vaccines to confront the health emergency caused by COVID-19, information on the terms of the relevant contracts is reserved, and as a result the exact amounts paid for vaccines remain completely opaque.
In Mexico, a total of 7 companies produced the doses reported by the SRE: AztraZeneca with 112,422,600 doses, Pfizer-BioNTech with 51,433,395, Moderna with 6,272,000, Cansino with 14,137,260, Johnson & Johnson with 1,350,000, Sinovac with 20,000,000, and Sputnik with 20,000,000 doses.1
Notwithstanding, in all the cases reported by the SRE there is a conspicuous lack of transparency in the process of authorization, purchase, and access to vaccines, which has been carried out with public funds. The Mexican government, like other governments in the world, has accepted the terms imposed by the vaccine makers through contracts the information on which is not available to the public.2
The billionaires behind the pharmaceutical firms
BioNTech S.E. is a biotechnology company based in Germany devoted to development and manufacture of active immune therapies.
The millionaires who concentrated the firm’s capital are the twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, who are 158th among the world’s richest persons. Thomas and his brother Andreas were the first investors in the German firm BioNTech, which partnered with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to produce a vaccine.
In its partnership with Pfizer, as reported in the Forbes list, the Struengmann family fortune grew between 9 and 11.9 billion dollars year after year, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sales of its vaccines.3
Another such case is Uğur Şahin, who is executive director and cofounder of the biotechnology firm and partner of Pfizer to produce the first Covid-19 vaccine approved in the United States (USA). Mr. Şahin was responsible for leading the firm through the process of developing the vaccine and is in 509th place on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.
The firm’s CEO reported gains of 1.3 billion dollars, from 2021 to 2022, in royalties for its vaccine.4
For the US firm Moderna, there is Stephane Bancel, CEO and founder. Bancel became Moderna’s CEO in the year 2011 (and holds the position to date) and owns approximately 8% of the stock of the company, which is listed on the US stock exchange. Before joining Moderna, Bancel was CEO of the French diagnostic company BioMerieux, founded by fellow French multimillionaire Alain Merieux.
The Moderna CEO is ranked 622 on the list of the world’s richest people, and his personal fortune grew from 4.3 to 4.6 billion dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, we have Cyrus Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India, which he founded in the year 1966. Today, the firm produces more than 1.5 billion doses a year of a variety of vaccines, including vaccines against measles, poliomyelitis, and influenza.
Under the management of Cyrus’s son, Adar Poonawalla, as Serum’s CEO, the firm invested 800 million dollars to build a new factory to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Serum, like other pharmaceutical firms, has numerous partnerships for COVID-19 vaccines and produces Covishield, the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The magnate reported the highest growth among sellers of COVID-19 vaccines to Mexico, going from 8.8 to 24.3 billion dollars, and is ranked 56th among the world’s richest people.5
- Download the database of the 10 billionaires whose fortunes multiplied during the COVID-19 pandemic here.
- Transparencia de la SRE (2022). Covid-19 contracts and vaccines. ↩
- Transparencia de la SRE (2022). Public Version Covax, Pfizer, Cansino, AstraZeneca, Sinovac. ↩
- Thomas Struengmann and family. Profile in Forbes (20222). ↩
- Ugur Sahin. Profile in Forbes (2022). ↩
- Cyrus Poonawalla. Profile in Forbes (2022). ↩