BioNTech scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci are a couple who have pursued advancement in the research for cancer treatments and the treatment of rare and infectious diseases. The couple spent years leading research on personalized immunotherapy treatment for cancer. Now, they are known as the developers of the first effective vaccine for treating COVID-19 in the world.
55-year-old Sahin and 53-year-old Tureci founded BioNTech in Mainz, a city in Germany in 2008. On Monday, Pfizer, United States pharmaceutical company, which has entered into a partnership with BioNTech announced that the company’s vaccine which uses a new technology known as messenger RNA, or mRNA, to ignite an immune response in patients who receive it exceeded 90% success rate in participants.
Sahin and Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer have explained the importance of the vaccine especially with the number of COVID-19 death tolls rising every day. Bourla referred to the vaccine as “the greatest medical advancement” in a century. Sahin said during a phone call with reporters that he is happy because the world now knows that the disease can be prevented with a vaccine, CNN reports.
This is not the first giant success attributed to the power couple in medicine. In 2001, they founded their company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, to study the possible development of antibodies that would fight cancer. The company was later sold in 2016 for $1.4 billion.
They are also listed amongst the 100 richest people in Germany. Their company, BioNTech which is listed under NASDAQ was valued at $4.6 billion last year but is now worth $25.72 billion. The company’s stock rose by 8% and $5.6 million worth of shares were sold after Pfizer’s announcement on Monday.
Sahin was born in the Turkish city of Iskenderun along the Turkish Mediterranean Coast and moved to the German city of Cologne when he was four. He met Tureci, also of Turkish descent during their academic careers in the medical world. Tureci, being a daughter of a physician herself, and Sahin shared a love for medical research that sealed their love and fate.
Shaun explained that after he learned about the coronavirus, he realized he could develop an mRNA-based vaccine for viruses from his research on anti-cancer mRNA drugs. The company gave the project to about 500 of its scientists and later entered a partnership with Pfizer in March.
The vaccine utilizes the messenger RNA to fool the cells in the body to manufacture proteins that resemble bits of the virus. The immune system then identifies and destroys the proteins, hence it will react fast in the event of an infection. Sahin stated that the company plans to have created at least 1. 3 billion vials of the vaccine before the end of 2021.