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ABLE2UK Festive Message 2020

Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Türeci
Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Türeci

2020 has been dominated by COVID-19, back in February when the first case of the disease was detected in the UK alarm bells started ringing about what the rest of the year would have in store.

Panic buys, lockdowns, isolation and sadly thousands of deaths on a global scale made headlines on a daily basis and there’s been little change since.

This Christmas the recipient of our seasonal message comes from two people who have changed the world, they aren’t celebrities, they haven’t completed a grand challenge, in fact the names Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Türeci may not be familiar to you.

In 2018 when the couple launched a small technology company called BioNTech their work, predominantly focused on cancer treatments, had yet to make a name for itself outside Germany.

Then Covid-19 reared its ugly head! Behind the doors of a relatively unknown firm which had never produced a product to market scientists were working on what the world desperately needed, a vaccine for coronavirus.

On November 9 Dr. Sahin announced that his company had American Pharmaceutical Corporation Pfizer had found a cure for the disease which had taken the lives of 12 million people.

The doctor said: “It could be the beginning of the end of the Covid era.”

Research started in January after Dr. Sahin read an article about the disease in the medical journal The Lancet. At the time Covid was in its early stages spreading throughout China, but he knew it wouldn’t be condensed to just one country and within weeks coronavirus would become a global pandemic. So began Project Lightspeed, the mission to find a safe vaccine as soon as possible.

In an interview last month Dr. Sahin said: “There are not too many companies on the planet which have the capacity and the competence to do it so fast as we can do it.

“So it felt not like an opportunity, but a duty to do it, because I realized we could be among the first coming up with a vaccine.”

It was obvious though, quite soon on, that a company couldn’t find a vaccine single handily, especially if they wanted to roll it out before Christmas, so they teamed up with Pfizer, the two firms had worked together since 2018 developing a flu jab.

Over the past two years Dr. Sahin, from Turkey, has formed a firm friendship with the Greek chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla.

In a past interview Dr. Sahn said: “We realized that he is from Greece, and that I’m from Turkey. It was very personal from the very beginning.”

The Turkish doctor met Dr. Türeci early on his career, both were devoted to their careers. You wouldn’t find many scientists returning to their labs within hours of their wedding ceremony!

In 2001 the couple started Ganymed Pharmaceuticals to develop cancer treatment, building on their success they set their sights higher by launching a new business in order to expand their medical research, the firm would be known as BioNTech.

Before Covid BioNTech was making a name for itself, 1,800 members of staff were working in offices around Germany and Cambridge. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $55 million in the company to fund research into HIV and tuberculosis and in 2019 Dr. Sahin was awarded the prestigious Mustafa Prize, recognising his commitment in science and technology.

In an interview last month Mr. Bourla said: “Ugur is a very, very unique individual. He cares only about science. Discussing business is not his cup of tea. He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principles. I trust him 100 percent.”

On Tuesday Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr.Ozlem Türeci were photographed exclusively for ABLE2UK (see above) and sent us this personal message.

“To ABLE2UK readers. If you can envision it, you can do it! Don’t stop believing in yourself"