Doctors Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the couple of Turkish scientists who developed in Germany the first vaccine to be licensed and injected ten months ago in Europe to combat COVID-19, had a team that worked day and night to achieve a record time making the impossible possible.
“Now we realize that it was almost impossible, but we have made the impossible possible”, Has indicated Sahin, which together with his wife founded BioNTech in Germany in 2008, a company with which they managed to develop their vaccine, marketed together with the North American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and with which they are also developing therapies based on messenger RNA for the treatment of tumors.
Both are in Oviedo, in the north of Spain, to receive, together with five other scientists who promoted in record time the development of the first vaccines to face a global pandemic, the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research, distinction They will receive from the hands of King Felipe VI during the ceremony that this Friday will be held at the Campoamor Theater.
On their stage they will meet with the vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert, biologists Derric Rossi and Katalin Karikó, immunologist Drew Weissman, biochemist Philip Felgner, promoters of the vaccines marketed by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which were the first to see the light and the most inoculated.
The vaccine developed by Sahin (1965) and Türeci (1967), marketed under the name Comirnaty by Pfizer-BioNTech, is the one that has been used the most in Spain and the rest of the European Union And, like Moderna’s, it is based on messenger RNA since it elicits the immune response from a modified protein, instead of relying on attenuated viruses, as traditional ones do.
More than thirty years of research culminated in the development of a vaccine “that did not fall from the void“, Türeci assured in a telematic press conference in which her husband stressed that the development of this injectable”it was done without shortcuts”.
They took three months of work to start the clinical studies since the work began in 2020 to be able to have a vaccine in the shortest possible time, something that they carried out with a team of researchers “absolutely focused on its creation” and who worked day and night to get it.
“Having that responsibility has been great, but it has given us the opportunity to achieve extraordinary concentration and incredible success “, has highlighted this researcher born in Turkey and trained in Germany, where he met his wife, also of Turkish origin, and with whom he has shared decades of research.
For her, having developed this vaccine is not only a reason for happiness for having given it a response to the pandemic, but also because they have been able to show that science can help overcome global crises such as that caused by this coronavirus with its different variants and mutations.
So far its vaccine and the rest of those available have been shown to be effective in protecting against the variants that have emerged, including delta, the most contagious, and it has not been necessary to adapt its formulation, although Türeci has had an impact in that this may change in the future and variants may appear before those that are not effective.
In the event of such a situation, however, the technology on which these vaccines are based makes it possible to achieve “very quickly”New vaccines, since only the part that had changed in the coronavirus would have to be modified.
The WHO, which puts 4.9 million victims of the pandemic, warned yesterday that if vaccination does not increase in countries where immunization rates are still low, their number could double in 2022, a problem that for the founders of BioNTech It could be solved with the installation of more production centers in countries with medium and low incomes.
His goal from the beginning has been to make vaccines “available to all the inhabitants of the planet”, according to Sahin, who has ensured that before the end of the year they will have distributed more than 2 billion doses of their vaccine in 140 countries, 1,200 millions of them in low- and middle-income countries.
Next year they will continue in this line with what, in their opinion, by mid-2022 all corners of the world will have access to vaccines whose supply cannot be limited.
Release patents to facilitate their production in the poorest countries “is not the solution and may be a problem”Added his wife, who insisted that in order to achieve a fair distribution the first step is to favor production facilities in other countries and the sufficient knowledge to achieve it.
In addition to this vaccine, whose clinical trials with more than 60,000 people and the data collected from more than five million people confirm its “safety and efficacy“Both scientists are now focused on the development of personalized vaccines based on messenger RNA for the treatment of people with cancer.
According Tureci, “it may seem like science fiction“But within five or six years there may be personalized vaccines at affordable prices for health systems that allow to attack tumors safely and with greater success than with traditional treatments against cancer.
His company has been working in this field for almost a decade, and clinical trials carried out with on-demand vaccines that take four to six weeks have shown that they are safe treatments, that they elicit important immune responses and that they reduce tumors.