The corona destroyer is an immigrant

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 While the COVID-19 pandemic still very much here and taking thousands of lives around the world each day, and with specialists only predicting more new cases and deaths in winter as the next waves fast approach, the news of developing the first clinically approved vaccine by a German-Turkish couple at BioNTech grabbed headlines across the globe.

Uğur Şahin's father moved to Germany as a low-skilled worker some half a century ago, and now his Son, who grew up in Germany as an immigrant of Turkish descent, has discovered the highly-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine along with his wife, Özlem Türeci.


Science Couple's Beginnings

Uğur Şahin was born in İskenderun, Turkey, in 1965. When he was four, his father left for Germany to work as a simple worker for a Ford factory in Cologne. Uğur and the rest of the family joined his father shortly after.


In 1984, Uğur entered the University of Cologne to study medicine and received his doctorate in 1992, being distinguished as a summa cum laude graduate. His much-acclaimed thesis was on immunotherapy for tumor cells. He later went to Hamburg to become a specialist and started to work in the city's hospitals. Professor Şahin, as he is now referred to, currently lives in Mainz and serves as an immunology professor at the University Medical Center of this city. He is one of the co-founders of BioNTech SE, a knowledge-based biotechnology company headquartered in Mainz, along with his wife, Dr. Özlem Türeci. In November 2019, for his research on the development and clinical testing of mRNA-based anticancer vaccines, Şahin was awarded the third biennial Mustafa Prize in biomedical sciences and technologies.

Özlem Türeci was born in Lastrup, Lower Saxony, in 1967. Daughter of Turkish parents, her father was also a doctor. Uğur and Özlem met in 2000 and got married in 2002. With their common interest in infectious diseases and research on strengthening the human body's immunity against cancer, the couple co-founded Ganymed Pharmaceuticals in 2001. Their efforts in the company were chiefly focused on generating antibodies to prevent and combat cancer. Although managing a large biotech company consumed a great deal of their time, they never ceased their immunotherapy research. Furthermore, they kept teaching in a number of German universities. Dr. Türeci has also become the president of the European Federation for Immunotherapy against Cancer.

In 2008, the couple took another step forward by co-founding BioNTech SE, which has since become one of the most successful pharmaceutical companies in Germany. According to Welt am Sonntag, a German daily, both Professor Şahin and Dr. Türeci are among the 100 wealthiest Germans today. Already worth an impressive 4.6 billion dollars a year ago, BioNTech's market value at the New York stock exchange has since rocketed to over 21 billion dollars as of November 2020.


Pandemic Ending with the New Vaccine?

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Şahin answered questions about the vaccine developed by his company. The Muslim researcher is quite optimistic about the vaccine's efficacy and believes it will indeed destroy the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 and put an end to the pandemic. "If you ask me whether this vaccine is able to end the pandemic," the BioNTech CEO said, "my answer is yes."

There are, however, many questions still left unanswered regarding the vaccine. For instance, since most volunteers for the clinical testing were young, healthy individuals, there are doubts as to whether the vaccine is equally effective on the elderly's immune system. According to Şahin, the data on the third-stage clinical tests will be compiled in three weeks' time and the feeling is that, in brief, the vaccine will work. Still, the immunology researcher admits it will take at least another full year to find out whether the vaccine can also prevent the virus' person-to-person transmission.


Strongest Available Vaccine?

According to DW, Professor Uğur Şahin is the most reliable authority to produce the COVID-19 vaccine. A report by the German broadcaster points to an "extremely complex" research, with the whole world awaiting its success in producing an effective vaccine. German biotech giant BioNTech, in collaboration with the American pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer, is developing a clinically effective COVID-19 vaccine eagerly anticipated by people all across the globe. 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to be produced and shipped to consumers by the end of 2020.

The US government has an agreement, the German outlet reports, to pay Pfizer and BioNTech up to $2 billion for 100 million doses of the vaccine in the first phase. The recent breakthrough has increased the value of BioNTech to over €20 billion, making Uğur Şahin a billionaire almost overnight.

Şahin's method in developing a new generation of vaccines have been unique and revolutionary. Indeed, while the world was busy dissecting this elusive virus' DNA, he pioneered the use of messenger RNAs, or the mRNA to produce the long-awaited vaccine. The mRNA approach generates the fourth and latest generation of vaccines. In this method, instead of modifying the cell's genus – which, in some cases, has been shown to cause cancer – the virus' antigen is created in the cell's ribosome. The approach has been proven to be associated with less adverse effects and higher speed. Professor Şahin, who seems confident about the method, explains: "We, and many of our colleagues, have found that mRNA is particularly useful for development of vaccines for epidemic diseases. We employ RNA-based technologies whose safety and immunogenicity against oncological symptoms have been confirmed and patented."


Mustafa Prize for Discoverer of Vaccine

The Mustafa (PBUH) Prize is a biennial scientific and technological award honoring the efforts of eminent researchers and scientists from the Muslim World. The award was named 'Mustafa,' one of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) names (meaning chosen, preferred, or appointed) as the Holy Prophet strongly emphasized the importance of learning throughout one's life. The decision to establish an international-level scientific award titled the Mustafa (PBUH) Prize was approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution in 2012. The award was initially started by the Pardis science and technology park, but the newly-founded Mustafa (PBUH) Science and Technology Foundation has since taken over hosting the ceremony. The award is granted to elite individuals born in Islamic countries who push the boundaries of science and technology especially through innovative discoveries that improve mankind's quality of life. Thus, all the winners are considered top scientists of international level in various disciplines. The Mustafa (PBUH) Prize has unofficially been dubbed as the Islamic Nobel Prize.

The award is granted in four categories: "Life, Medical Science and Technology," "Nanoscience and Nanotechnology," "Information and Communication Science and Technology," and "Top Scientific Work in All Areas of Science and Technology." The term 'all areas' refers to the fields of education listed by UNESCO, natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, information and communication technology (ICT), manufacturing engineering, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and veterinary medicine, health and welfare, cognitive science, and Islamic economics and banking.

The candidates must be the citizen of one of the 57 Islamic countries. The winner is awarded 500,000 American dollars, with the prize funded by donations from large economic institutions, knowledge-based enterprises, investors, or any entity with an interest in the scientific excellence and growth of Islamic nations.

The works submitted to the secretariat of the Mustafa (PBUH) Prize undergo are evaluated and judged in two stages. In the first stage, the juries verify the documentation and qualification of the works in a broad manner and recommend the selected works to the next stage for further assessment. In the second and final stage, a seven-member specialized jury, composed of internationally-recognized researchers and scientists, oversee the works in each category. The final winner is selected based on three criteria: distinctive features of the work, influence of the work, and characteristics of the owner of the work (candidate). The call for submissions for the 2021 edition was issued earlier in the year. The applicants had to register and submit their works before the deadline on 31 August 2020. The final candidates and the winner will be announced in November 2021.


Şahin Provided Update on COVID-19 Vaccine in STEP Meeting

In the 7th meeting of the Science and Technology Exchange Program (STEP) along with other scholars of the Islamic world in June 2020, Professor Uğur Şahin had good news regarding the success of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The 2020 STEP meeting was all about the Coronavirus and featured infectious disease researchers and specialists from Singapore, Germany, France, USA, Malaysia, India, Japan, Pakistan, Canada, China, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Oman, Italy, Indonesia, Turkey, Iraq, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Iran. STEP meetings are held with the purpose of facilitating the exchange of ideas and experiences among elite Muslim scientists. The meetings serve as a platform to help overcome the challenges and find solutions to the problems of the Islamic World.

In this meeting, hosted by Iranian researchers, professor Şahin predicted that by August, the vaccine would undergo its second phase of clinical testing.

"The COVID-19 vaccine will soon be ready for use. At the moment, we are in close cooperation with two other companies to develop the vaccine. If we obtain the final formula, one kilogram of the vaccine, which takes a month to produce, will be enough for one-hundred million people. However, if we manage to lower the required dose, we can naturally serve more people."

The BioNTech CEO was hopeful there would be no delay or discrimination in the distribution of the vaccine. "We sincerely want to produce a vaccine that is available to every country. For this purpose, we have had talks with various organizations, such as WHO, to make sure that the vaccine is free for everyone."


Professor Şahin's Acceptance Speech in Tehran

"The Mustapha (PBUH) Prize is quite valuable to me. It is such an honor to hear that I have won it. This award can serve as an example for scientists in the Islamic world. Iran is a country that has always attached great importance to science and the world's scientists. We can have constructive scientific exchanges with scientists from all over the world. I have visited several Iranian universities in the past few days and the experience has led me to believe in the necessity of these relations even more."

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