American pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced on Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with Germany company BioNTech may be 90% effective, based on preliminary results.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people on six countries with no safety concerns, the BBC reported. The company is now looking to apply for emergency-use approval later this month.
Founded by Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, BioNTech is a biotechnology company based in Mainz, Germany, that mostly focused on cancer treatments.
The couple are both the children of Turkish immigrant parents. Sahin, 55, moved to Germany with his family when he was four. His dad worked in a Ford factory in Cologne. Türeci, 53, was born in Germany to a Turkish physician who had immigrated from Instanbul.
The couple, who have a teenage daughter, met at Saarland University in Homburg and got married in 2002, returning to their lab on their wedding day.
Back in January, when Sahin first read an article in medical journal The Lancet about the coronavirus spreading in China, he was convinced it would soon explode into a full-blown pandemic.
Immediately, he called upon the scientists at BioNTech to cancel their vacations and set to work on what they called Project Lightspeed.
“In April, they’ll have to shut the schools here,” he had told Türeci. Germany entered its first lockdown in March, a month earlier than Sahin had predicted.
However, due to his early provisions, BioNTech had already developed 20 candidates for a vaccine by then.
In a country where Turkish immigration continues to be an unruly issue, the success of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine may be a shining light.
Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel called the couple’s success a “balm for the soul” of Germans with Turkish roots after decades of being seen as ‘lowly-educated greengrocers’.
Although it has yet to bring a product to the market and only debuting on the US stock market a year ago, BioNTech’s stock is now valued at $21.9 billion – more than four times that of Germany’s national carrier Lufthansa.
Sahin told the New York Times that when he and Türeci learned about the vaccine’s efficacy data on Sunday night, they had celebrated by brewing Turkish tea at home.