Coronavirus: The married couple behind the success of the Pfizer COVID vaccine | World news


News that a Pfizer vaccine is 90% effective against COVID-19 has been heralded as a turning point in the global fight against the virus.

But while the vaccine was funded by the American pharmaceutical giant, the science itself is the work of BioNTech, a German company founded by a married couple and dedicated doctors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci.

Together they are hailed as the brains that enabled the potential for transformation coronavirus vaccine to come.

Ugur Sahin is CEO and co-founder of the German biotechnology company
Dr Ozlem Tureci is the company’s medical director. Credit

Scientists and entrepreneurs Professor Sahin, 55, and Dr Tureci, 53, are now among the richest 100 Germans, as their BioNTech business has climbed in value to $ 21 billion (£ 16 billion) as a result of the vaccine breakthrough.

But, as children of immigrants, they came from more humble beginnings.

Chief Executive Officer of BioNTech, Mr. Sahin was born in the Turkish city of Iskenderun, moving to West Germany at the age of four. His father was a Gastarbeiter, a migrant worker at a Ford factory in Cologne.

Dr Tureci, who is the company’s medical director, was born in Germany and is the daughter of a Turkish doctor who emigrated from Istanbul to the country.

Mr. Sahin trained as a doctor, studied in Cologne and Hamburg, but focused on immunotherapy. He met Dr Tureci early in his academic career.

Dr Tureci once said in an interview that even on their wedding day, they both made time to work in the lab.

The couple had a passion for research and oncology which they took forward in their first company Ganymed Pharmaceuticals which they created in 2001.

The company set out to investigate the possibility of using an altered genetic code, or messenger RNA (mRNA), to trick the body into fighting cancer and developing anti-cancer antibodies.

They sold this business in 2016 for $ 1.4 billion (£ 1 billion). At that time, they were already busy building BioNTech, founded in 2008, to develop a much broader range of cancer immunotherapy tools.

The couple’s work on the potential of mRNA proved to be essential in the development of COVID-19[feminine[feminine vaccine.

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Is this the vaccine the world is waiting for?

In January, Professor Sahin came across a scientific article on a new coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

He was struck by how small the switch from anti-cancer mRNA drugs to viral mRNA vaccines was.

BioNTech quickly assigned around 500 employees to the “Speed ​​of Light” project to work on several possible compounds, gaining pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Chinese manufacturer Fosun as partners in March.

Now testing showed that the vaccine, which uses genetic material from mRNA to induce the body to produce antibodies, is 90% effective.

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of German biotech company BioNTech is pictured in Mainz
The £ 16 billion head office. File Image

Colleagues describe Professor Sahin as “modest” and underrated.

Matthias Theobald, professor of oncology at the University of Mainz, where Professor Sahin still teaches, said: “He is a very modest and humble person. Appearances don’t mean much to him.

“But he wants to create the structures that allow him to realize his visions and this is where the aspirations are far from modest. ”

Matthias Kromayer, member of the board of directors of venture capital firm MIG AG, whose funds supported BioNTech, said: “Despite his accomplishments, he has never changed from being incredibly humble and personable. “


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