FT People of the Year: BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci

FT People of the Year: BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci

By developing a Covid vaccine in less than a year, the couple achieved a remarkable scientific and business success

In the 11 months since they devoted themselves to stemming the deadliest pandemic in over a century, Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin’s precious few private moments have been spent exercising along deserted suburban streets near their home in the German city of Mainz, listening to ‘80s pop playlists.

Deluged by paperwork from regulators around the world last week, the co-founders of BioNTech missed the TV footage of 90-year-old Margaret Keenan rolling up her sleeve at a hospital in Coventry in the UK to become the first patient injected with their approved Covid-19 vaccine — the news trickling in via messages from friends and colleagues.

The symbolism of those images, however, was unmistakable: it effectively kickstarted humanity’s fightback against a disease which has claimed more than 1.6m lives.

“We were nervous,” admits Dr Sahin, whose quiet confidence has seemed shatterproof over the past year. Despite having seen their jab administered to more than 22,000 people in clinical studies across six countries, he says “it is different when people are vaccinated for the first time outside a trial, in the real world setting”.