Covid-19 vaccine firm founded by children of Turkish immigrants

Covid-19 vaccine firm BioNTech co-founded by husband-wife German-Turkish scientist duo
2 min read
09 November, 2020
Biotech firm Biotech, which partnered with Pfizer to find a Covid-19 vaccine, was founded by the children of Turkish immigrants.
BioNTech and Pfizer are the first drug makers to show successful trials [Getty]
A married couple of Turkish heritage stands behind German biotech firm BioNTech that partnered with Pfizer Inc's Covid-19 experimental vaccine, which was announced on Monday to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing the novel coronavirus. 

BioNTech Chief Executive Uğur Şahin, 55, is the son of a Turkish immigrant who worked in a Ford factory in Cologne, Germany. Şahin is among the 100 richest Germans, together with his wife and fellow board member Özlem Türeci, 53, according to weekly Welt am Sonntag.

The pair co-founded the BioNTech, which as of Friday, had its market value ballooned to $21 billion from $4.6 billion a year ago. The firm is set to play a major role in mass immunisation against the novel coronavirus.

"Despite his achievements, he never changed from being incredibly humble and personable," said Matthias Kromayer, board member of venture capital firm MIG AG, whose funds have backed BioNTech since its inception in 2008.

Türeci, the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany, said in a media interview that even on the day of their wedding, both made time for lab work, Reuters reported, referring to the couple as the "dream team".

BioNTech and its US-based partner Pfizer are the first drug makers to show successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine. 

The two pharmaceutical companies said the vaccine they have jointly developed had during Phase 3 trials provided protection to nearly all patients seven days after the second of two vaccine doses. They found no serious safety concerns and expect to seek US emergency use authorisation later this month.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation chief hailed the news as "encouraging".

"We welcome the encouraging vaccine news from @pfizer & @BioNTech_Group & salute all scientists & partners around the who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat #COVID19," WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.

"The world is experiencing unprecedented scientific innovation & collaboration to end the pandemic," he said.

As of mid-October, the WHO has identified 42 "candidate vaccines" at the stage of clinical trials, up from 11 in mid-June.  

Ten of them were at the most advanced phase 3 stage, in which a vaccine's effectiveness is tested on a large scale, generally tens of thousands of people across several continents.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said in a tweet Monday that the news from Pfizer and BioNTech should "encourage all developers of #COVID19 vaccines to continue with clinical trials."

"The world needs several safe, effective & affordable vaccines to end this pandemic," she said.

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