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Turkish Migrants behind Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine

BioNTech's owners are children of Turkish "guest workers" who moved to Germany in the late 1960s

As coronavirus cases surge across the world with little relief in sight, the world rose on Monday to a good news, with the reports that Pfizer and its partner, the German company, BioNTech, announced preliminary results that their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO in a statement published on Pfizer website.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”

BioNTech started in 2008 in the German city of Mainz in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate by husband-and-wife scientist team Ugur Sahin (55), the company’s chief executive and his wife Ozlem Tureci (53), along with Christoph Huber, a cancer expert, The Guardian reported.

Both Sahin and Tureci are the children of Turkish immigrants who moved to Germany in late 1960s.

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The couple founded their first company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals in 2001 working on immunotherapy cancer treatment, and sold it in 2016 for €422m (£381m, $502m).

In 2008, they started BioNTech to focus on using messenger RNA (mRNA) drugs for cancer immunotherapy.

“Influenced by my father, who worked as a doctor, I could not imagine any other profession even when I was a young girl,” Tureci told the wissenschaftsjahr website.

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How It Works?

Unlike traditional vaccines, which works by putting weak or inactivated doses of a virus or bacteria into the body to make the immune systems produce antibodies, m-RNA vaccines work by transmitting a genetic code to cells telling them produce a protein, which in turn activates the immune system.

“He [Sahin] is a very modest and humble person. Appearances mean little to him. But he wants to create the structures that allow him to realize his visions and that’s where is aspirations are far from modest,” Matthias Theobald, an oncology professor at Mainz university who has worked with Sahin for 20 years, told Reuters.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had set a bar of 50 percent efficacy for vaccine makers who wanted to submit their candidates for emergency authorization.

If the preliminary results from Pfizer and BioNTech bear out — and accurately reflect how the vaccine will work in the real world — then it’s far more protective than that.

According to official German statistics in 2014, Muslims form the largest minority religious group in the country with about 4.7 million people, representing about 5 per cent of the German population.

More than half of the Muslims in Germany, about 63.2 per cent, are of Turkish and Kurdish origins.