He is the CEO of BioNTech, she is chief medical officer there. Together, they conducted research to create an anti-Covid vaccine. This Monday, they announced that the fruit of their research was 90% effective. It will now be tested on a large scale before being possibly approved and marketed.
But who are Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin really?
As a child, Ugur Sahin dreamed of becoming a doctor. At 55, the CEO of BioNTech is one of Germany’s greatest fortunes. A professor at the University of Mainz, this son of a car worker (the Ford factories in Cologne) specialized in molecular medicine and immunology.
It was during his medical studies, when he was working at the Hamburg University Hospital, that the scientist crossed paths with Özlem Türeci. This daughter of a Turkish physicist who came to settle in Germany is now his wife. Together, they share a common passion for medical and oncology research. When they were younger, they dreamed of finding new ways to treat cancer.
So, in 2001, they wanted to believe in their dream and they decided to found, with the immunologist Christoph Huber, a biotechnology company (Ganymed Pharmaceutical), which they then sold to a multinational. Seven years later, they created the pharmaceutical company BioNTech. The company has always aimed to specialize in the development of individual therapies for cancer patients. To achieve this, it received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which invested $ 55 million in it.
In January, Ugur Sahin had already understood that the Covid-19 was going to lead to a pandemic. From then on, he felt “obliged to do something”, as he told the Allgemeine Zeitung, a German regional daily. The scientist therefore left his research area to try to find a vaccine against the coronavirus, convinced that he could also develop a vaccine to cure infectious diseases such as Covid-19.
The pharmaceutical company then mobilized around 40 people, offering well-paid overtime to conduct research. Very quickly, these were productive and a dozen potential vaccines were found. The development of one of them led to the results that we have seen since Monday. A great victory for the couple.
Today, their company weighs 2.4 billion euros. But they assure them that they are not interested in money. Rather, it is the development of new and better therapies that makes them tick.
Asked by Reuters, Matthias Kromayer, a colleague of the couple, said that “despite his success, Sahin has never ceased to be incredibly humble and lovable”, even adding that the couple form a “dream team”. Comments confirmed by Matthias Theobald, oncologist and longtime collaborator of the researcher: “He is a very modest person. Appearances do not matter to him. But he wants to create the structures that allow him to realize his visions and that is where its aspirations are far from modest. “