German couple behind vaccine is immigrant success story


The couple behind the coronavirus vaccine breakthrough are among Germany’s biggest immigrant success stories.While the vaccine research was funded by Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant, the revolutionary technology behind it is the work of BioNTech, a German company founded by a married couple, both children of Turkish immigrants.

Professor Ugur Sahin was born in the Turkish Mediterranean town of Iskenderun, near the border with Syria. He moved to West Germany at the age of four. His father was a Guest workers, or migrant worker, in a Ford car factory in Cologne and his mother brought the rest of the family to join him.

West Germany discouraged immigration at the time. Donor were considered temporary workers and they and their families had little chance of obtaining German citizenship.

Yet today Professor Sahin and his wife, Özlem Türeci, are among the 100 richest people in Germany. They sold their first business for $ 1.4 billion (£ 1 billion) in 2016, and BioNTech’s value soared to $ 21 billion (£ 16 billion) following the vaccine’s breakthrough .

As a young man, Professor Sahin fought against all odds to pursue his dream of a career in medicine – a feature film for the son of a migrant car worker. He studied medicine in Cologne and Homburg and specialized in the treatment of cancer.

It was while working as an oncologist in Homburg that he met his future wife, Dr Türeci. Although she was also the child of immigrants, Dr Türeci had a somewhat more conventional path to a medical career. Her father was a doctor who immigrated from Istanbul and she was born in Germany.


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