A Turkish couple is the dream team behind the most promising vaccine for COVID 19. Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci founded the company BioNTech, that’s working on the vaccine and of which Sahin is the current Chief Executive Officer and Türeci is the Chief Medical Officer.
Recently, we reported that a COVID-19 vaccine, developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, currently under trial has proved 90 percent effective. The vaccine, BNT162b2, is currently undergoing its Phase 3 human trial that began on July 27. The first set of results shows “initial evidence of the vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.” But who is this project backed by? One of the primary forces behind the development of this vaccine is a husband-wife “dream team” that has been committed to medicine for years now.
Sahin and Türeci are among the 100 richest Germans, according to Business Today. As of last week, BioNTech’s value stands at $21 billion compared to $4.6 billion from last year.
Who Is This “Dream Team”?
Sahin, as a son of Turkish immigrants in Germany, has humble roots. Despite the roadblocks, he pursued his dream of getting into the medical field and becoming a physician. According to The Irish Times, “Sahin worked at teaching hospitals in Cologne and the southwestern city of Homburg, where he met Tuereci during his early academic career.”
Tuereci too is the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany. According to the official BioNTech website, she “earned her M.D. from Saarland University Faculty of Medicine, Homburg.” Then together with Sahin, she pursued her interests in medicine. The couple was especially interested in “the immune system as a potential ally in the fight against cancer.” So much so that Tuereci once previously mentioned that the two “made time for lab work” even on their wedding day.
In 2001, they set up the Ganymed Pharmaceuticals in Germany to develop cancer-fighting antibodies. Sahin and Tuereci reportedly received funding from venture capitalists for their enterprise, “but the firm was eventually sold in 2016 for an estimated $1.4 billion,” according to The Print.
The Founding Duo Of BioNTech
Then in 2008, the husband-wife founded BioNTech “to make a range of cancer immunotherapy tools.” Sahin took the lead, while Türeci joined as a clinical and scientific advisory board member, before becoming the Chief Medical Officer in 2018.
In March this year, the company joined hands with Pfizer and a Chinese drugmaker to develop a potential COVID-19 cure. “It’s certainly not something that you would easily voice as a serious scientist, but it was within the realms of possibility from the beginning,” Sahin reportedly said.
Several company officials have emphasised on Sahin’s grounded and humble nature, despite heading such a gigantic venture. Matthias Kromayer, a fund board member associated with Sahin previously, recalls that Sahin comes to office “wearing jeans and carrying his signature bicycle helmet and backpack with him.” He is the one to have termed Sahin and Tuereci a “dream team.”