Married professors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci developed science of Pfizer vaccine

April Roach and Barney Davis
·3-min read
<p>Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci - the married couple behind the Pfizer vaccine</p> (BioNTech SE 2020)

Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci - the married couple behind the Pfizer vaccine

(BioNTech SE 2020)

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine - and it’s thanks to this couple.

The Government has already ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine – which has been found to be 95 per cent effective – enough to immunise 20 million people with two shots each.

While the Covid-19 treatment was funded by the American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, the science was primarily developed by BioNTech. The German company was founded by Özlem Türeci, 53, and Ugur Sahin, 55 and their RNA technology.

Dr Sahin was born in Iskenderun, Turkey. When he was four, his family moved to Cologne, Germany, where his parents worked at a Ford factory. He grew up wanting to be a doctor, and became a physician at the University of Cologne.

Early in his career, he met Dr Türeci.

She had early hopes to become a nun and ultimately wound up studying medicine. Dr Türeci, the chief medical officer of BioNTech, was born in Germany, the daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul.

The married physicians are passionate about research and oncology. Dr Tureci once said in an interview that even on the day of their wedding, they both made time for lab work.

Their first company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals founded in 2001, explored whether modified genetic code, or Messenger RNA (mRNA), could be used to trick the body into fighting cancer.

Chief executive officer Mr Sahin and Chief Medical Officer Dr Türeci are so dedicated to their work that according to a previous interview, the pair still made time for their lab work on their wedding day.

<p>Professor Ugur Sahih, one of the founders of BioNTech</p>PA

Professor Ugur Sahih, one of the founders of BioNTech

PA

Professor Sahin and Dr Türeci, who are both children to Turkish immigrants, sold their first company for $1.4bn (£1bn) in 2016. Two years later they started BioNTech which explores a broader range of cancer immunotherapy tools.

The couple's work on the potential of mRNA proved to be useful when it came to developing a coronavirus vaccine.

“The first interim analysis of our global Phase 3 study provides evidence that a vaccine may effectively prevent Covid-19. This is a victory for innovation, science and a global collaborative effort,” said Prof Sahin.

“When we embarked on this journey this is what we aspired to achieve. Especially today, while we are all in the midst of a second wave and many of us in lockdown, we appreciate even more how important this milestone is on our path towards ending this pandemic and for all of us to regain a sense of normality.

"We will continue to collect further data as the trial continues to enroll for a final analysis planned when a total of 164 confirmed Covid-19 cases have accrued. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to make this important achievement possible.”

Matthias Theobald, a fellow oncology professor at Mainz University, where Professor Sahin still teaches, told Sky News the professor is a “very modest and humble person”.

Dr Sahin said he and Dr Türeci marked learning their vaccine was 95 per cent effective by brewing Turkish tea at home. “We celebrated, of course,” he told the New York Times. “It was a relief.”

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