Two years ago nobody knew them
Uğur Şahin
An outstanding researcher in medicine
Özlem Türeci
Love in the hospital
Honeymoon in the lab
Cancer research
BioNTech
The beginning of the pandemic
Project 'Lightspeed'
The BioNTech founders are very rich
They still bike to work
'He only cares about science'
The city of Mainz is also getting rich
Awards for the BioNTech founders
Celebrity visit
His own vaccination
Next challenges
Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Two years ago nobody knew them

Or at least, nobody outside of the scientific community knew them. As professors and researchers of medicine, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci had a good reputation long before the pandemic.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(2/18)
Uğur Şahin

He was born on September 19, 1965 in İskenderun, Turkey. At the age of four, Şahin and his mother moved to Germany to live with his father, who'd already gone there to work in the Ford car factory in Cologne.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(3/18)
An outstanding researcher in medicine

Uğur Şahin studied medicine in Cologne from 1984 to 1992. His doctoral thesis on immunotherapy in tumor cells was awarded the highest honors. In 1999 he finished a post-doc in the field of molecular medicine and immunology.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Özlem Türeci

Şahin's wife is also a doctor and the child of Turkish immigrants. She was born in 1967, grew up in the northwest of Germany and, like her father, wanted to become a doctor from an early age. She did her post-doctoral research in molecular medicine, the same topic as her (future) husband.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Love in the hospital

The two professors got to know each other at the Saarland University Hospital in Homburg, near the border with France. They got married in 2002.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Honeymoon in the lab

As the New York Times reports, the newlyweds did not have a big honeymoon. They went back to the lab after the wedding ceremony. By now, the couple have a teenage daughter and are world famous.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Cancer research

Their research focused on finding and developing a cancer vaccine that works on the same premise as the Covid-vaccine: a messenger substance based on RNA (ribonucleic acid) instructs the body's immune system to protect itself against the disease.

(Photo: a laboratory of BioNTech in 2020)

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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BioNTech

BioNTech, the pharmaceutical company that has been world-famous since the pandemic, started in the city of Mainz in 2008. Its aim was to improve cancer therapy. BioNTech entered the stock market in 2019. Since its development of the Covid-19 vaccine, the company's value has exploded.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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The beginning of the pandemic

In an interview with VRM Mainz in October 2020, Şahin explained in his modest and matter-of-fact way that he already saw the danger of a pandemic at the end of January 2020. At that time, the first reports from China hardly worried anyone.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(10/18)
Project 'Lightspeed'

Immediately, the couple and their team started working towards a vaccine. Because it had to be developed quickly, they called the project 'Lightspeed.' Eventually, Financial Times journalist Joe Miller would write a book about the couple with the same title.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(11/18)
The BioNTech founders are very rich

"We don't need a lot," said the couple in an interview with ZEIT Online in September 2021. But they have a lot. According to Business Insider, Şahin and Türeci's fortune has increased to 14 billion euros (15.5 billion dollars). According to the Forbes ranking, they are among the ten richest people in Germany in 2021.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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They still bike to work

Little is known about her private life, but according to the New York Times, the family still lives in a normal apartment. They do not even have a car. Both Özlem and Uğur cycle to work.

(Pictured: graffiti portraits of the couple under a bridge in Ankara, Turkey)

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(13/18)
'He only cares about science'

"Talking about commercial matters is not his thing... He only cares about science." Both statements about Şahin come from Albert Bourla, the managing director of Pfitzer, in an interview with the New York Times.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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The city of Mainz is also getting rich

Mainz (pictured) hopes to be debt-free by the end of 2022, thanks to BioNTech's trade tax. "The surplus in the Mainz budget this year is expected to be around 1.09 billion euros [1.20 billion dollars]," Mayor Michael Ebling (SPD) said at a press conference.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Awards for the BioNTech founders

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci have received 20 awards, including the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (pictured) and the Spanish Princess of Asturias Prize.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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Celebrity visit

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally visited the BioNTech laboratories while she was still in office.

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
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His own vaccination

Although Uğur Şahin is extremely discreet about his private life, he shared this photo of his own vaccination on his LinkedIn profile in late 2021. The reason for his publication: a friend of his, who had not been vaccinated, was fighting Covid-19 in the hospital.

(Photo: LinkedIn / Uğur Şahin)

Meet BioNTech's global pharma royalty: the Turkish couple behind the Covid-19 vaccine
(18/18)
Next challenges

After the vaccine for children under 12, the BioNTech laboratories are working feverishly on adaptations to omicron and other new variants of the coronavirus, as well as booster shots and the spread of the vaccine to developing countries.

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