Who is the most important Turkish scientist

Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin, the research couple behind the hottest corona vaccine candidate

From Mainz, an innovation has already gone around the globe: Johannes Gutenberg invented modern letterpress printing there in the 15th century, which fundamentally changed book production and thus also society.

A good half a millennium later, a German-Turkish scientist couple in Mainz is working on revolutionizing the medical world with their innovative ideas. Quasi en passant, the two also developed the Covid-19 vaccine BNT162b2, which has a good chance of being the first to be approved.

Meteoric careers

The two research stars who are currently making headlines around the world are Özlem Türeci (pronounced: Türedschi) and Uğur Şahin (pronounced: U’ur Schahin), and their meteoric careers are also picture book stories of successful integration. The 53-year-old Türeci is the daughter of a doctor who came to Germany from Istanbul. Her husband, who is one year older, comes from a guest worker family from southern Turkey.

The two met at the University of Homburg, where they studied medicine. As up-and-coming young researchers, they moved to the University of Mainz in 2000, where Şahin is now a professor. There they worked for Christoph Huber, a pioneer in cancer immunotherapy from Austria. Eight years later they founded Biontech with Huber, their second company. Şahin is the CEO of Biontech, Türeci is in charge of clinical development.

Almost 20 billion market value

The company specializes in novel immunotherapies, primarily against cancer, an extremely promising approach for which the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded in 2018. How much future there is in the ideas of the two high-flyers can easily be seen from the market value of Biontech: The market capitalization is currently almost 20 billion euros, which is more than four times that of Lufthansa. (Incidentally, the address of the company headquarters in Mainz is "An der Goldgrube 12".)

"Speed ​​of Light" project

Since this new approach of specifically stimulating the immune system using antibodies or antibody fragments is also promising in a modified way against influenza or Covid-19, the two of them switched their company over to the development of a Covid vaccine in January. The parents of a teenage daughter called their project "the speed of light". In doing so, they benefited from years of development work in which there is quite a lot of investor capital.

BNT162b2, is a so-called mRNA vaccine, which consists of fragments of the virus's RNA. It leads to the formation of antibodies and helps T cells identify and shut down infected cells. The vaccine, which is being approved for approval with the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, has proven to be a very promising candidate in the test phases so far.

That is why Biontech started mass production and signed preliminary contracts. The so-called "rolling review" with the European approval authority has already started, in which study results are transmitted in real time.

Timely decision

The decisive results from phase 3 are expected with great excitement for the next few days: Specifically, it is about whether those test subjects who were among the 44,000 people vaccinated in phase 3 and still received Covid-19, the overwhelming majority from the control group with the Placebo originate.

If that is indeed the case, which is generally expected, it should give the world new hope in this gloomy time. Because then a first vaccination against Covid-19 is concretely foreseeable - thanks to Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin. (Klaus Taschwer, November 2nd, 2020)