Earlier this week, the German biotech company BioNTech, together with its partner, the American giant Pfizer, became the first pharmaceutical company to develop a 90% effective vaccine against coronavirus, a major international breakthrough that has brought hope to citizens and joy to the world’s stock markets and economy. But who are the scientists behind the possible vaccine?
Ugur Sahin Y Ozlem Türeci, are the marriage of doctors of Turkish origin, co-founders of the German company BioNTech. They are a marriage of cancer experts. In fact, at the headquarters of the biotechnology company in Mainz, hundreds of scientists among its 1,300 employees in 50 countries are dedicated to developing individualized immunotherapies for cancer patients and, for the past ten months, they have devoted a good part of their resources to the vaccine of the covid-19.
They began to do so on January 27, long before the coronavirus spread exponentially, paralyzing entire countries. And in March they announced their collaboration with Pfizer. The consortium with large companies is not something new for these researchers who have already collaborated in the past with Sanofi, Bayer or Roche among others. The German press ranks Sahin among the largest fortunes in the country.
Ugur Sahin, 55, is the president of the Company. He was born in Turkey, and came to Cologne at the age of four with his mother. He studied medicine and specialized in oncology and immunology with a doctorate summa cum laude. Dr. Türeci, 53, also the daughter of Turkish immigrants, was already born in Germany and enjoys a lot of prestige in the country. The two met at the University of Hamburg and an anecdote perfectly reflects their scientific commitment. By their own account, on their wedding day they worked in the laboratory, went to get married on a break and then went back to work.
Before BioNtech, the couple of cancer experts had another biotech company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, which worked on immune responses against esophageal cancer and which they sold two years before founding the current one to Japan’s Astellas Pharma for at least 420 million euros. euros.
Sahin compares the rise of BioNTech, which now has 1,300 employees, to that of electric car maker Tesla, though the scientist’s modesty actually contrasts with the strident demeanor of Tesla founder Elon Musk.
Sahin told German media that he first learned about the coronavirus through a scientific publication in January, which described the outbreak in Wuhan.
He quickly realized that the disease would spread. “We thought it was our duty to help here too, because we have the basic conditions to develop vaccines”Sahin recounted.