Behind Pfizer’s Covid Vaccine, A Husband-Wife Dream Team

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Behind Pfizer's Covid Vaccine, A Husband-Wife 'Dream Team'

Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of German biotech agency BioNTech. (FILE)


Constructive information on BioNTech and US accomplice Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine is an unlikely success for the married couple behind the German biotech agency, who’ve devoted their lives to harnessing the immune system in opposition to most cancers.Pfizer mentioned on Monday mentioned its experimental vaccine was greater than 90% efficient in stopping COVID-19 based mostly on preliminary information from a big research.

Pfizer and BioNTech are the primary drugmakers to point out profitable information from a large-scale scientific trial of a coronavirus vaccine. The businesses mentioned they’ve to date discovered no severe security issues and count on to hunt US emergency use authorization later this month.

From humble roots because the son of a Turkish immigrant working at a Ford manufacturing facility in Cologne, BioNTech Chief Government Ugur Sahin, 55, now figures among the many 100 richest Germans, collectively along with his spouse and fellow board member Oezlem Tuereci, 53, based on weekly Welt am Sonntag.

The market worth of Nasdaq-listed BioNTech, which the pair co-founded, had ballooned to $21 billion as of Friday’s shut from $4.6 billion a 12 months in the past, with the agency set to play a significant function in mass immunisation in opposition to the coronavirus.

“Regardless of his achievements, he by no means modified from being extremely humble and personable,” mentioned Matthias Kromayer, board member of enterprise capital agency MIG AG, whose funds have backed BioNTech since its inception in 2008.

He added Sahin would usually stroll into enterprise conferences sporting denims and carrying his signature bicycle helmet and backpack with him.

Doggedly pursuing his childhood dream of learning medication and turning into a doctor, Sahin labored at educating hospitals in Cologne and the southwestern metropolis of Homburg, the place he met Tuereci throughout his early educational profession.

Medical analysis and oncology grew to become a shared ardour.

Tuereci, the daughter of a Turkish doctor who had migrated to Germany, mentioned in a media interview that even on the day of their marriage ceremony, each made time for lab work.

Collectively they honed in on the immune system as a possible ally within the combat in opposition to most cancers and tried to deal with the distinctive genetic make-up of every tumour.

Life as entrepreneurs began in 2001 once they arrange Ganymed Prescribed drugs to develop cancer-fighting antibodies, however Sahin – by then a professor at Mainz college – by no means gave up educational analysis and educating.

They received funding from MIG AG in addition to from Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, who offered their generic medication enterprise Hexal to Novartis in 2005.


That enterprise was offered to Japan’s Astellas in 2016 for as much as $1.4 billion. By then, the group behind Ganymed was already busy constructing BioNTech, based in 2008, to pursue a much wider vary of most cancers immunotherapy instruments.

That included mRNA, a flexible messenger substance to ship genetic directions into cells.


For MIG’s Kromayer, Tuereci and Sahin are a “dream group” in that they reconciled their visions with the constraints of actuality.

The BioNTech story took a twist when Sahin in January got here throughout a scientific paper on a brand new coronavirus outbreak within the Chinese language metropolis of Wuhan and it struck him how small the step was from anti-cancer mRNA medication to mRNA-based viral vaccines.

BioNTech rapidly assigned about 500 employees to venture “gentle velocity” to work on a number of attainable compounds, successful pharma large Pfizer and Chinese language drugmaker Fosun as companions in March.

Matthias Theobald, a fellow oncology professor at Mainz college who has labored with Sahin for 20 years, mentioned his tendency in the direction of understatement belies a relentless ambition to remodel medication, exemplified by the leap of religion to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“He’s a really modest and humble individual. Appearances imply little to him. However he needs to create the buildings that permit him to understand his visions and that is the place is aspirations are removed from modest,” Theobald mentioned.

Sahin informed Reuters on Monday the read-out amounted to an “extraordinary success fee” however that he didn’t know earlier within the 12 months how troublesome the duty total could be.

“It is actually not one thing that you’d simply voice as a severe scientist, nevertheless it was throughout the realms of risk from the start.”

(Apart from the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is printed from a syndicated feed.)


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