Recent breakthroughs towards the development of Covid-19 vaccines are a “ray of hope” to accelerate the development of coronavirus treatments and drugs.
As the BioNTech and Pfizer announced that a vaccine for the coronavirus they are developing is more than 90% effective in preventing the disease among 43,500 trial volunteers, millions of people around the world are hopeful that soon life will get back to normal.
While the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was funded by the American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, the science behind the vaccine was primarily developed by BioNTech.
The researcher couple and their company, BioNTech, who are behind this breakthrough are citizens of German, a Turkish Muslim couple – Dr. Ugur Sahin, and his wife Dr. Orlem Tureci.
Two years ago, Dr. Ugur Sahin said that his company might be able to use its so-called messenger RNA technology to rapidly develop a vaccine in the event of a global pandemic.
While at that time his company, BioNTech, was little known outside the small world of European biotechnology startups. BioNTech, which Sahin founded with his wife, Dr. Özlem Türeci usually focuses on treatments for cancer tumors, however, they focused their attention on a Covid-19 vaccine once the pandemic hit.
But his words proved prophetic.
“It could be the beginning of the end of the Covid era,” said Sahin in an interview.
The New York Times reported that prior to starting his own research company, Dr. Sahin worked under Rolf Zinkernagel, the 1996 Nobel Prize winner in medicine.
“Dr. Sahin was born in Iskenderun, Turkey. When he was 4. his family moved to Cologne, Germany, where his parents worked at a Ford factory,” the newspaper said.
“He grew up wanting to be a doctor and became a physician at the University of Cologne In 1993, he earned a doctorate from the university for his work on immunotherapy in tumor cells.”
“It could be the beginning of the end of the Covid era,” Dr. Sahin told the New York Times that ran a special story on the couple.
As a young man, Prof Sahin battled against the odds to pursue his dream of a career in medicine – a long-shot for the son of a migrant car worker.
While working as an oncologist in Homburg, he met his future wife, Dr. Tirei. Dr. Tirei’s father was a Turkish doctor who immigrated from Istanbul, and she was born in Germany. She is the chief medical for BioTech.”
“Şahin, after his doctorate with a thesis on immunotherapy treatment for cancer cells, followed his Ph.D. supervisor to Saarland University in the town of Homburg, where Türeci was studying medicine. The couple married in 2002, interrupting their research only briefly to slip out of their lab coats and dash to the registry office on their wedding day. Their daughter was born four years later,” The Guardian reported.
All these years later, “Prof Sahin and his wife, Özlem Türeci, are among the richest 100 people in Germany. They sold their first business for $1.4bn (£ibn) in 2016, and BioNTech’s value has soared to $21bn (£16bn) in the wake of the vaccine breakthrough,”
“Despite the couple’s wealth and business success, Prof Sahin is described by colleagues as “humble”, who still teaches at Mainz University, and is known for turning up to business meetings carrying his bicycle helmet,” The Telegraph reported.
While appearances mean little to Prof Sahin, his visions and aspirations are far from modest. When research funds were hard to come by “we simply started our own company”, Şahin told the news-portal Hesse.
“Their first company, founded in 2001, was called Ganymed- which means “earned through hard work.”
Their second company BioNTech which they founded in 2008, has currently 1300 employees. Looking to use a wider range of technologies, including messenger RNA, to treat cancer.
“We want to build a large European pharmaceutical company,” Sahin said in an interview with the Wiesbaden Courier.”
After the vaccine trial results show that it is 90% effective in preventing Covid-19, Sahin said he and Türeci marked the moment by brewing Turkish tea at home. “We celebrated, of course,” he said. “It was a relief.”