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Sat 27 February 2021:

Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin, Turkish-German nationals who are the founders of the pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which invented one of the first COVID-19 vaccines, are to receive the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the presidential office announced Friday. 

Steinmeier will personally present the Federal Republic’s Great Cross with Star to Sahin and Tureci at a ceremony which will be held at the Bellevue Palace next month.

“Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin has successfully translated their medical research into practice,” a statement by the presidential office said in a statement.

“Thanks to their globally recognized competence in the field of mRNA technologies and their tireless efforts, they have succeeded in developing a vaccine against COVID-19 and receiving authorization for its use within a very short time. They have made a decisive contribution to containing the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Great Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is one of the country’s most prominent honors to pay tribute to the individuals for their services to the nation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among the attendees of the ceremony on March 19, according to the presidential statement.

Both Sahin and Tureci were born to immigrant parents from Turkey who moved to Germany in the 1960s.

The pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which Sahin and his wife Tureci founded in 2008, managed to develop the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine together with its American partner Pfizer.

Sahin, who was born in Iskenderun, Turkey, in 1965, arrived in Germany when he was four years old and his father worked there in a car factory. He studied medicine at the University of Cologne and worked several years at Saarland University Medical Center.

Tureci is the daughter of a Turkish physician who emigrated to Germany from Istanbul. She studied medicine at the Saarland University Faculty of Medicine and become a pioneer in cancer immunotherapy in Germany.

How did BioNTech develop a vaccine?

The couple faced several challenges in getting the mRNA technology behind the vaccine to be recognized while they were racing the pandemic, but they did not give up. 

Traditionally, scientists have developed vaccines through a weakened or dead version of a virus to encourage immune systems to fight the disease.  

But Sahin and Türeci’s background in mRNA research allowed them to develop the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.  

The approach takes a small part of the virus’ genetic information to spark an immune response through producing protein directly in the cell.




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