Physicians Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci, who bonded over their love of medical research, are the married couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine that could change the world.
Mr Sahin according to Mail Online came from humble roots to build two billion-dollar companies but still rides to work on his mountain bike.
Now the ‘modest’ 55-year-old physician turned chief executive of a German biotech firm and his wife Oezlem Tuereci, 53, a fellow board member of BioNTech, are being hailed as the ‘dream team’ behind the world’s hopes for a Covid vaccine.
The global race to find a COVID-19 Vaccine took a leap forward on Monday when pharma companies Pfizer and BioNTech claimed their jab is 90 per cent effective.
Born in Turkey, Mr Sahin was raised in Germany, where his parents worked in a Ford factory. Trained as a doctor, Mr Sahin became a professor and researcher focused on immunotherapy.
He worked at teaching hospitals in Cologne and the south western city of Homburg, where he met immunologist Miss Tuereci during his early academic career. Medical research and oncology became a shared passion.
Miss Tuereci, the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany, once said in an interview that even on the day of their wedding, both made time for lab work.
Together they honed in on the immune system as a potential ally in the fight against cancer and tried to address the unique genetic makeup of each tumour.
Life as entrepreneurs started in 2001 when they set up Ganymed Pharmaceuticals to develop cancer-fighting antibodies, but Mr Sahin – by then a professor at Mainz University – never gave up academic research and teaching. Ganynmed was sold to Japan’s Astellas in 2016 for $1.4 (£1.06) billion.
Mr Sahin and Miss Tuereci co-founded BioNTech in 2008, with the aim of pursuing a much broader range of cancer immunotherapy tools.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $55 (£41.8) million in the company, which also works on HIV and tuberculosis programmes.
Colleagues describe Mr Sahin as a calm and measured man who avoids checking the company’s share price and is more interested in reading scientific journals.
He and his wife now figure among the 100 richest Germans, according to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
But Matthias Kromayer, a board member of venture capital firm MIG AG, whose funds have backed BioNTech, said: “Despite his achievements, he never changed from being incredibly humble and personable.”
He added Mr Sahin would typically walk into business meetings wearing jeans and carrying his signature bicycle helmet and backpack with him.
Matthias Theobald, a fellow oncology professor at Mainz University who has worked with Mr Sahin for 20 years, said: “He is a very modest person. Appearances mean little to him. But he wants to create the structures that allow him to realise his visions and that’s where his aspirations are far from modest.”
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