“Speed is enormously important during a pandemic”

Passion, conviction, courage and vision: Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin have all of these. They are the dynamic couple behind Biontech.

Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci
Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci Felix Schmitt/Agentur Focus

Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin are the faces of Germany’s vaccine success. The founders of the Mainz-based company Biontech developed a highly effective, mass-produced and safe vaccine against coronavirus at “Light­speed”, as they named their project in mid-January 2020. In the past, developing a vaccine took over ten years – if it was successful at all. It took Biontech less than a year.

How did Türeci and Şahin achieve that? It is a story of passion, conviction, courage and vision. The two doctors first met at Saarland University Medical Center and married in 2002. One year earlier they had already founded a biotech company, which they later sold at a profit. In 2008, they set up Biontech in the firm conviction that cancer can be prevented or even cured with messenger ribo­nucleic acid (mRNA). Because they secured the backing of two strong German financial investors early on, they were able to risk everything at the beginning of 2020. Several hundreds of employees set out to develop a vaccine against coronavirus ­using the new mRNA technology. At the same time, the founders relied on numerous partnerships to resolve the logistical challenge of vaccine produc­tion. US pharma giant Pfizer is the biggest name among them. That was how they managed to complete the test phases early and eventually begin large-scale production of the first vaccine to receive EU approval.

In the meantime, Biontech is trading on the US NASDAQ Stock Exchange at high prices. However, the husband-and-wife research team with Turkish roots have always only regarded economic success as a side-effect. They consider it more important to get the results of their research work to patients across a broad front. And that is where investors see great potential. It is said that the wide range of applications for mRNA technology could make “Biontech the Amazon of the biotechnology sector”.

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