The couple behind the vaccine that gives the world hope –...

MARRIED: Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci founded the company BioNTech in 2008. They are the company’s CEO and medical director, respectively. Photo: BIONTECH

They are both children of Turkish immigrants. Now the couple Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci are among Germany’s richest and are developing the technology behind what could be the first successful corona vaccine.

Following Monday’s corona vaccine breakthrough, the German biotechnology company BioNTech is now valued at 21 billion dollars, or just over 189 billion Norwegian kroner.

With funding from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the company uses modern RNA technology in an attempt to create an effective vaccine against the new coronavirus.

At the center of it all is the couple Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci. They founded BioNTech in 2008 and are CEO and Medical Director, respectively, in addition to being on the board.

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Initially, BioNTech was working on the development of a general vaccine against cancer, but when Sahin came across a scientific article in January about the outbreak of the new coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan, this changed.

According to Reuters, the professor realized that it would be a short way from developing mRNA-based cancer drugs to developing an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine.

500 people started working on the case and in March BioNTech entered into an agreement with Pfizer and Chinese Fosum Pharma.

IN THE LABOR: Professor Ugur Sahin showed the laboratory at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz am Rhein when VG wrote about his work to develop a cancer vaccine in 2006. Photo: Andrea Gjestvang, VG

Sunshine story

Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci met in Homburg and together they have made a career out of a common passion for medical research and oncology, ie the doctrine of cancer. Even on their wedding day in 2002, they both must have been in the laboratory, Türeci himself said in an interview.

The couple are both children of Turkish immigrants, and their background makes them an example of successful German integration.

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According to The Telegraph, Sahin was born in the Turkish Mediterranean city of Iskenderun near the border with Syria. He moved to West Germany with his parents when he was four years old. His father worked as a guest worker at one of Ford’s car factories in Cologne. Türeci was born in Germany, but her father was a doctor who immigrated to the country from Istanbul.

In the 1960s, a large number of Turks came to Germany. Originally they were supposed to be temporary workers, but many remained and today there are about four million Turks living in the country.

Turkish CNN writes about the couple that they are an example of “how favorable immigration can be for Germany, where immigration has been discussed in recent years”.

Before BioNTech, the couple also founded the company Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, which develops immunotherapeutic cancer medicine. The company was sold for 422 million euros in 2016.

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Sahin owns 18 percent of the shares in BioNTech, and with that he is now, on paper, one of the 100 richest in Germany.

– Modest and humble

Ugur Sahin is described as a down-to-earth type, with a great passion for the subject.

“Despite everything he has achieved, he has never changed from being incredibly humble and pleasant,” Matthias Kromayer, board member of the venture capital company MIG AG, which has supported BioNTech financially since its inception, told Reuters.

Kromayer also says that Sahin usually comes to meetings in jeans wearing a bicycle helmet and a backpack.

Sahin still teaches at the University of Mainz and his colleagues they also have only kind words to say.

– He is a very modest and humble person. Facade does not mean anything to him. But he wants to create structures that can realize his visions and that is where his efforts are far from modest, says one of his colleagues, Matthias Theobald to The Telegraph.

Published: 10.11.20 kl. 10:37

Updated: 10.11.20 kl. 11:16

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