The husband and wife team behind the leading vaccine to solve Covid-19

The German company BioNTech, founded by two scientists, has partnered with Pfizer on a vaccine that was found to be more than 90 percent effective

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Two years ago, Dr. Ugur Sahin took the stage at a conference in Berlin and made a bold prediction: Speaking to a room full of infectious disease experts, he said his company could use its so-called messenger RNA technology to quickly develop a vaccine in the event of A global pandemic.

At the time, Dr. Sahin and his company, BioNTech, were little known outside of the small world of European biotech startups. about cancer treatments. He had never launched a product on the market. Covid-19 didn’t exist yet.

But his words turned out to be prophetic.

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On Monday, BioNTech and Pfizer announced that a vaccine against Dr. No evidence of the previous infection. The impressive results have put BioNTech and Pfizer at the top of the race to find a cure for a disease that has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide.

“It could be the beginning of the end of the year, Covid -Era, “said Dr. Sahin in an interview on Tuesday.

BioNTech began work on the vaccine in January after Dr. Sahin read an article in the medical journal The Lancet believing it was Coronavirus, rapidly spreading in parts of China at this time, would explode into a full-blown pandemic. The scientists at the Mainz-based company canceled their vacation and started what is known as the Lightspeed project.

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“There aren’t too many companies on the planet that have the capacity and the expertise to do this as quickly as possible it, “said Dr. Sahin in an interview last month, “So it was not an opportunity but a duty to do it because I realized we could be among the first to develop a vaccine. “

After BioNTech found this out, Dr. Sahin concluded that the company would need help quickly testing them, getting regulatory approval, and bringing the best candidate to market. BioNTech and Pfizer had been working together on a flu vaccine since 2018 and in March. They agreed to work together on a coronavirus vaccine.

Since then, the Turkish Dr. Sahin built a friendship with Albert Bourla, the Greek CEO of Pfizer. The couple said in recent interviews that they shared their backs together for rounds as scientists and immigrants.

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“We noticed that he comes from Greece and that I come from Turkey,” said Dr. Sahin, without mentioning the longstanding antagonism of their home countries. “It was very personal from the start.”

Dr.Sahin, 55, was born in Iskenderun, Turkey. When he was 4 years old, his family moved to Cologne, where his parents worked in a Ford factory. He grew up as a doctor and became a doctor at the University of Cologne. 1993 He received his doctorate from the university for his work on immunotherapy in tumor cells.

At the beginning of his career, he met Dr. Tureci. At first, she had hopes of becoming a nun and eventually ended up studying medicine. Dr. Türeci, now 53, and BioNTech’s medical director, was born in Germany, the daughter of a Turkish doctor who immigrated from Istanbul. married, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci returned to the laboratory after the ceremony.

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The couple initially focused on research and teaching, including at the University of Zurich, where Dr. Sahin worked in the laboratory of Rolf Zinkernagel, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine

In 2001, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, which developed drugs to treat cancer using monoclonal antibodies.

After several years they also founded BioNTech, seeking to use a broader range of technologies, including messenger RNA, to treat cancer. “We want to build a large European pharmaceutical company,” Dr. Sahin said in an interview with the Wiesbaden Courier, a local newspaper.

Even before the pandemic, BioNTech was gaining momentum. The company raised hundreds of millions of dollars and now has more. 1,800 people on staff, with offices in Berlin, other German cities, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2018, it began its partnership with Pfizer. Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $ 55 million to fund its work to address the H. and tuberculosis. Also in 2019, Dr. Sahin was awarded the Mustafa Prize, an Iranian biennial award for Muslims in science and technology.

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Dr. Sahin and Dr.Türeci sold Ganymed for $ 1.4 billion in 2016. Last year, BioNTech sold shares to the public; In recent months, their market value has skyrocketed to over $ 21 billion, making the couple one of the richest in Germany.

The two billionaires live with their teenage daughter in a modest apartment near Germany. his office. They bike to work. They don’t have a car.

“Ugur is a very, very unique person,” Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in the interview last month. “He only cares about science. Discussing business is not his thing. He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principle. I trust him 100 percent.”

In Germany, where immigration continues to play a role The success of two scientists of Turkish descent was a cause for celebration.

“With this couple, Germany has a shining example of successful integration,” wrote the conservative business location Focus.

A member of parliament, Johannes Vogel, wrote on Twitter that if the right-wing extremist party Alternative für Deutschland were to go, “there would be no #BioNTech in Germany with Özlem Türeci & Ugur Sahin at the top.”

“If it were up to critics of capitalism and globalization” He added, “There would be no collaboration with Pfizer. But that makes us strong: an immigration country, a market economy, and an open society!

Dr.Sahin had little time for politics this year. BioNTech has been so busy developing a vaccine that the company has not yet finalized the financial details of its partnership agreement with Pfizer.

Everything is going so quickly, “said Dr. Sahin.” We still have a term sheet and no final contract for many things. “

Dr.Sahin said that he and Dr.Türeci heard about efficacy data on Sunday evening and marked the moment by brewing Turkish tea at home. “Of course we celebrated,” he said. “It was a relief.

NYtimes / TechConflict.Com

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