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Muslim Turkish-German couple behind Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

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The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer and its German biotechnology partner, BioNTech, have announced that their COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, based on clinical trial data.

The 90% efficacy is much higher than virologist had hoped for, at around 70%-80%, and the side effects are said to be minor.

Dr. Ugur Sahin is the CEO and Dr. Özlem Türeci the chief medical officer of BioNTech, the company that created the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer. Both are German nationals of Turkish descent, whose parents immigrated to Germany from Turkey. They met while working at a university hospital in Germany, and married in 2002.

Scientist Billionaires

Prior to starting their biotechnology company, BioNTech, they had founded another company, a pharmaceutical company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, which focused on the role of antibodies in treating cancer. They founded Ganymed in 2001.

The couple married in 2002, where they worked in their laboratory in the morning, and left to perform the wedding ceremony, then later returned to continue their work in the lab.

Ganymed had investments from German billionaires, brothers Thomas and Andreas Struengmannand, and in 2016, the company was sold to Japanese pharmaceutical company, Astellas Pharma for around USD 1.4 billion.

In 2008, they founded their second company BioNTech, that focused on research on immunotherapy in cancer vaccines. The same German brothers are also investors in BioNTech.

“In 2008, we recognized another platform had reached a maturity point where they had to be accelerated towards individualized vaccines, and BioNTech was founded,” Türeci told Labiotech.

According to BioNTech’s head of strategy, Ryan Richardson, BioNTech has been a loss-making company since its inception 12 years ago, and have invested over $1 billion to develop their mRNA technology platform.

In October last year, BioNTech went for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in Nasdaq, the US stock market, and only managed to raise USD150 million, based on a valuation of USD3.4 billion.

However, after the announcement of the 90% efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccines, BioNTech, is now valued at USD25 billion.

This means that the couple are now billionaires, worth at least USD 4 billion.

Children of Immigrants

Both Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci are children of Turkish immigrants to Germany.

Dr. Sahin came to Germany when he was just 4 years old with his parents. His father worked in a car manufacturing factory in Cologne. Dr. Türeci was born in Germany. Her father immigrated to Germany as a surgeon.

Dr. Türeci ‘s life was surrounded by science, as her father was a surgeon. Dr. Sahin, on the other hand, struggled earlier in his studies as he struggled with the German language. It was the dedication of his teachers to help him master the German language that paved the way for him to further his studies in the science field.

Lives Dedicated To Scientific Research

Dr. Sahin read about the Wuhan virus in a scientific journal and immediately realized that the virus might spread globally. He believed BioNTech’s technology on mRNA could be applicable for a vaccine.

He instructed his 500 staff to start working on potential compounds for “Project Lightspeed.”, as early as January 2020.

The vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA are the molecules in cells that control protein production, to teach the immune system to make coronavirus-fighting antibodies.

In March 2020, BioNTech partnered with Pfizer to conduct research on the COVID-19 vaccine, and by April 2020, they had begun human trials for the vaccine.

Pfizer expects to produce 50 million vaccine doses by the end of this year, to be given to approximately 25 million people in two doses. Another 1.3 billion of vaccine doses is expected to be produced next year.

It was said that when they found out the results of their mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, the couple celebrated by brewing Turkish tea.

Dr. Sahin still teaches at the University of Mainz, Germany while Dr. Türeci serves as the president of the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy. Last year, Dr. Sahin had won the Mustafa prize which is awarded to muslim researchers and scientists.

source: BusinessInsider and MarketWatch

Halalop Editor’s Note: You can also read about other notable Muslim scientists making an impact in today’s modern world.

Dr.Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil, the scientist who discovered a whole new galaxy, Dr. Sarah Al Amiri, lead scientist for UAE Mission to Mars,
Prof. Noor Shaker, revolutionizing medicinal drug discovery with Artificial Intelligence,
Dr. Sarah Qureshi, aircraft engineer, and inventor to convert airplanes’ impact on global warming into an eco benefit.

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