How BioNTech’s husband-and-wife team developed Pfizer’s vaccine

How BioNTech’s husband-and-wife team developed Pfizer’s vaccine

A Lancet article about a mysterious virus in Wuhan in January inspired the couple

TOKYO — When Ugur Sahin, co-founder of the German biotech company BioNTech, first picked up an article published in January in the Lancet medical journal about a mysterious virus in Wuhan, he told his wife and business partner Ozlem Tureci that he expected it to spread to Germany by April.

By March, schools and kindergartens in most German states had been shut to slow the coronavirus spread.

This week, BioNTech and its collaborator, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, announced that the vaccine developed by Sahin and his team was well tolerated in final-phase human trials, and is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus that has killed 1.2 million people around the world.

While global stocks soared on Monday when news of the clinical trial results broke, the vaccine still needs regulatory approval and faces the issue of safe transportation.

Presenting the latest findings and business projections in a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, Sahin spoke of “a turning point and milestone, both for our company and for innovation in science” and “good news for humanity.”

Some unique factors played a part in achieving this breakthrough.

Sahin, 55, and Tureci, 53, had been researching for nearly 20 years the possibility of using modified genetic code, or messenger RNA (mRNA), to trick the body into developing cancer-fighting antibodies.