“This vaccine has been in development for 30 years.”


BioNTech founders Ugur Shahin and Ozlem Tureji developed the world’s first vaccine against Covid-19, the effectiveness of which is scientifically proven. They have now received Spain’s highest honor, the Princess of Asturias Prize for Science and Technology.

Euronews met with the couple to discuss their success, the creation of “science supergroups” and what they plan to do next to change the world.

What would you say to those who have not yet decided on vaccination?

Ugur Shahin, BioNTech:

– I think that, on the one hand, we should listen to people’s opinions, to their doubts, because a lot of incorrect information is spread, and people are worried because they do not know who to trust. Therefore, our task is to inform. And the task of a society is to maintain communication between all its members. I think it is very important that everyone who got vaccinated and transferred normally should talk about it. We must unite as a society and avoid being trapped in different bubbles, in different realities.

Over a year ago, we initially heard that it was impossible to create a vaccine in such a record time, and yet you did it. So can you understand their fears and reluctance to vaccinate?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– Yes, absolutely. We can understand this. And this applies not only to this vaccine. It is a common and very natural reaction when people want to first understand what is going on. And since there is so much information, it becomes more difficult to understand it. We are doctors by training. We treated, for example, cancer patients, and each of them asked us the same questions.

What will this treatment bring me? Wouldn’t it hurt? People want to be informed about what will happen to them and their bodies. So it’s very natural.

Ugur Shahin, BioNTech:

“It is also important to understand that the vaccine has not been developed in one year. The vaccine was developed as a result of 30 years of research. It’s like a sprinter who has trained his whole life for this event. And he is fully trained and ready to get to the start in no time and win the race against this pandemic. And it’s also important to understand that the science behind the vaccine took us 30 years.

But now let’s talk a little more, in detail, about the messenger RNA you were working on, where else do you think it leads to?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– Matrix RNA has transformational potential. MRNA is the oldest information technology, so to speak, invented by nature. With its help, you can transfer information into cells. You can tell the various cells in the body what to do, which basically means you can use it universally. This is a toolbox from which you can assemble what you need for a specific disease or for a specific mechanism.

The only limitation is understanding the disease and understanding what kind of information we want to convey. Once you have this data, you can use mRNA against cancer, against autoimmune diseases, against allergies for regeneration, and we are working on all of these areas and more.

Now that you’ve supposedly become more than paper billionaires, how has this changed your lifestyle?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– Not at all. It didn’t change our life. Our lifestyles depend on whether we feel like we are contributing to something more, rather than what we can have in terms of money. So our way of life has remained the same.

But getting up and going to work in the morning is easier now?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– For our research and development of new drugs that are on our list, this is definitely a turbo charger. This helps us invest in all the areas where we think we need to accelerate. We need to expand. We need to go deeper. So it turns out that helping to fight the pandemic now allows us to channel these funds to other areas where there are similar needs.

What areas are you currently interested in?

Ugur Shahin, BioNTech:

– We look wide. We have over 500 patents for various technologies and we believe there will be two problems in the future. On the one hand, diseases will become more individualized. Yes, many of these diseases, such as cancer, autoimmunity, allergies, and aging, are individual diseases with individual components. And we believe that it is no longer advisable to use the same drug, simply because it is the same disease.

Everyone has different diseases, and we want to create individual methods of treatment, for this we generate ideas, develop technologies. And this is about cancer. And, as Ozlem said, this applies to autoimmunity, inflammation, as well as diseases such as myocardial infarction. Because it is important to understand that our immune system is involved in all these diseases, and we are immunologists, and we understand how to mediate the immune response and change the behavior of the immune system.

You are here to receive this prestigious science and technology award; an award that you share with other laureates. Is there a chance that you will form a scientific “supergroup” to do more?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– We are already a scientific supergroup for the scientific community. And it was amazing during the pandemic, when everyone suddenly published and made available their observations, their conclusions characterizing the virus, characterizing new variants, the sequence of the virus. So we are already a large community, which is now even more rallied after the pandemic.

And we really believe that the situation will improve further, because this collaboration, the exchange of data, is what will help us in the future in situations where the crisis can be overcome with the help of science.

You both have a reputation for being workaholics. And we can say that now society as a whole benefits from this. Do you have any dreams, professional dreams, about doing something outside the scientific field?

Ozlem Turedji, BioNTech:

– Is there something else outside of science? I don’t understand the question …. (laughs)

You now have money, influence, power, knowledge on your side … Could you consider applying this to something else, for example?

Ugur Shahin, BioNTech:

– Yes Yes. We are driven by two motivations, on the one hand, curiosity, and we love science. On the other hand, we would like to be useful. Yes? But you can be useful even without doing science. And we are interested in one more thing – to understand what are the biggest problems of humanity and what are the factors outside of science that need to be solved so that people can benefit.

And so we now communicate with other people with similar ideas, who understand what they are doing and whether we can help. And this aspect also motivates us.

I was also curious to know how this happens between you two. You have such an incredible union, both in life and in your profession, but on what issues do you disagree?

Ugur Shahin, BioNTech:

– Every time we disagree on certain issues, and this happens every day on many topics, this is a chance to come up with something even better. Therefore, we love this scientific debate. If we disagree, then most often it concerns what we believe in, what science tells us. And in such a discussion it is always pleasant to understand Ozlem’s position. And come to a clearer understanding than what I had before.

And so I always see this as an opportunity to disagree and have a discussion.


Source: GOROD.LV – новости Даугавпилса by gorod.lv.

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