On Monday, November 9, 2020, US multinational pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and its partner German drug company BionTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90 per cent in preventing an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, based on initial data from the phase 3 clinical trials.
The news has raised the hopes that the world might soon have a safe and effective jab against the dreaded virus. But did you know that husband and wife Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci are the couple behind the jab that could help the world combat the coronavirus pandemic?
The physician couple, who are being hailed as the ‘dream team’ behind the world’s hopes for a COVID-19 vaccine, co-founded Mainz-based BioNTech along with Austrian cancer expert Christoph Huber in 2008.
Interestingly, the firm has never delivered a vaccine to the market before. However, the company’s experimental technology has now put at the forefront of the global race to produce a vaccine against COVID-19, which has so far killed at least 1,255,803 people worldwide.
Both scientists and the children of Turkish immigrants to Germany, Sahin and Tuereci are being hailed as the ‘dream team’ couple behind the vaccine that could change the world. The married couple, who bonded over their love of medical research, along with its employees (roughly 1,500) focused on developing specialised immunotherapies to treat cancer based on ‘messenger RNA’ (mRNA) molecules that trigger the building of proteins in cells, to stimulate the immune system.
Tuereci, 53, a fellow board member of BionTech and the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany, once said in an interview that the couple made time for lab work even on the day of their wedding.
As COVID-19 began to spread and in January, Sahin, the 55-year-old physician turned chief executive of the German firm, jumped into action and assigned about 500 staff to project light speed to work on several possible compounds.
By March, where much of the planet was in lockdown, Sahin told Der Spiegel weekly that BioNTech had developed 20 vaccine candidates based on mRNA technology, which were eventually trimmed down to a handful of the most promising options – with BNT162b2 vaccine now becoming the frontrunner, AFP reported.
Apart from Pfizer, BionTech also announced in March that it was teaming up with Chinese firm Fosun Group for the development and commercialisation of its COVID-19 vaccine in China. Under the deal, Fosun Pharma will commercialise the BNT162b2 COVID-19 vaccine in China upon regulatory approval, while BioNTech retains the rights to develop and commercialise the jab in the rest of the world.