Author: Tate Fonda
Left: Ugur Sahin, Right: Özlem Türeci
The Turkish-German scientific and romantic pairing between Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci has long made strides in cancer research, but recently, the physicians have extended their expertise to developing a trial-proven 90% effective COVID-19 Vaccine-- a percentage that far surpasses the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 50% efficacy target (Pfizer; FDA).
Their product, sold to their partner Pfizer, uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to provoke an immune response-- preparing the vaccinated individual to fend off the virus. The immune system’s familiarity with the mechanisms of fighting an initial infection will prove key in protecting a vulnerable public-- hence why a rapid search for a safe vaccine has ensued. When the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) allow and recommend that the public take the vaccine, the initially limited supply will be offered and distributed to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes (CDC, "Coronavirus Disease 2019”).
The company founded by Ugar Sahin and Özlem Türeci, BioNTech, had been long prepared for the global devastation that would become the COVID-19 pandemic. They were confident that the development of mRNA technology that offered insight into cancer research could be applied to the fight against a pandemic-- a disaster that reoccurs with time as we remember the Cholera outbreak, the Spanish flu, and other devastations throughout history (Gelles).
Ugur Sahin, born in Iskenderun, Turkey, knew he wanted to be a doctor from a young age. His wife Özlem Türeci, however, aspired to become a nun before becoming entranced in her scientific research-- so much so that immediately before and after the two were married, they returned to the lab to continue their work (Gelles). Their work became their lives (and saved countless from cancer along the way).
They are now among Germany’s richest couples, but they live simply to supplement their work. They do not own a television or a car and speak little of economic and business affairs (Miller). Their emotional connection, Sahin affirms, is the foundation of their success, providing stability in a fast-paced field (Gelles). With a 90% effective vaccine soon to enter the market, the couple have yet another feat to celebrate-- and the people have something to learn from a focused, intelligent pairing such as Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci.
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