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COVID-19 vaccine: An immigration success story

The development of the world's first effective coronavirus vaccine candidate has turned the world’s attention to two Turkish-German scientists who achieved the breakthrough. 

The pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which Dr. Ugur Sahin and his wife, Dr. Ozlem Tureci, founded in 2008, managed to develop an experimental vaccine together with its American partner Pfizer which was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19. On Monday, Sahin, who is BioNTech’s CEO, announced positive results from the Phase 3 trials and expressed hope that their efforts would help bring an end to the global health crisis. “The first interim analysis of our global Phase 3 study provides evidence that a vaccine may effectively prevent COVID-19. This is a victory for innovation, science and a global collaborative effort,” he said.

Immigration success story The success of Sahin and Tureci, renowned scientists in the field of oncology and immunology in Germany, made headlines after the announcement both in local and international media outlets. “The German couple behind the vaccine are an immigrant success story,” British daily The Telegraph reported, highlighting that both scientists were from Germany’s three-million-strong Turkish community. The German daily Der Tagesspiegel used the headline “How children of immigrants became multi-billionaires: The couple behind the corona-vaccine” while reporting their achievements and described this as an example of successful integration. Both Sahin and Tureci were born to immigrant parents from Turkey who moved to Germany in the 1960s. Sahin, who was born in İskenderun, Turkey, in 1965, arrived in Germany as a 4-year-old, where his father worked in a car factory. He studied medicine at the University of Cologne and worked several years at Saarland University Medical Center. Tureci is the daughter of a Turkish physician who emigrated to Germany from Istanbul. She studied medicine at the Saarland University Faculty of Medicine and become a pioneer in cancer immunotherapy in Germany.

Project Lightspeed The couple founded BioNTech in order to develop technologies for individualized cancer immunotherapies. Soon after the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, Sahin and Tureci decided to use their know-how in messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to induce immunity and prevent COVID-19 infections in an effort they called Project Lightspeed. In mid-January, the company partnered with American pharma giant Pfizer to develop a potential vaccine against COVID-19. If regulatory approval is obtained, BioNTech and Pfizer are planning to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

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