By Kwame Ismail Nkurunziza
When Dr Ugur Sahin was 4 years old, his family migrated to Germany.
Sahin, now 55, went on to study advanced degrees in medicine and later married Dr Özlem Türeci now 53, and started two companies. One of those companies was BioNTech.
On Monday BioNTech and Pfizer announced that they had developed a vaccine that was more than 90% effective.
The company which Dr Sanchin co-founded with his wife, who is also the chief medical officer of BioNtech, started developing the vaccine in January after he came across a story about Coronavirus in medical journal Lancet and became convinced it was going to turn into a global pandemic, which it is today.
“There are not too many companies on the planet which have the capacity and competence to do it as fast we can do it. So it felt not like an opportunity, but a duty to do it, because I realized we could be among the first coming up with the vaccine,” said the PhD holder, who used to work in the laboratory of the 1996 winner of Nobel prize in medicine, Rob Zinkernagel.
Despite their humble lifestyle the couple, which also founded Ganymed pharmaceuticals in 2001 and sold it in 2016 for 1.4 billion dollars, is one of the richest people in Germany today, thanks largely to BioNTech which is worth more than 21 billion dollars after it sold some of its shares to the public.
Bill Gates and Melinda gates are said to have invested 55 million dollars in BioNTech which is working on different treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
When asked to describe Dr Sanchin, his friend and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, said he was a very unique individual who only cares about science and is not keen on discussing the business.
Despite their vast wealth, the two scientists who live with their teenage daughter, prefer to ride bicycles to work and don’t own cars.
Last year, Dr Sanchin was awarded the Mustafa prize, a biannual Iranian prize for Muslims in science and technology.