Turkish-Born Muslim Scientists Behind Pfizer’s Successful COVID-19 Vaccine
Pfizer has announced today that its COVID-19 vaccine has been found to be more than 90% effective in its recently concluded large-scale trial. The two key scientists who developed this vaccine are Turkish-born Muslims named Dr. Ugur Sahin and his wife Dr. Ozlem Tureci, according to media reports. The couple started BioNTech, a technology startup based in Germany, to develop treatments using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. A Tunis-born Muslim scientist Dr. Moncef Mohamad Slaoui is leading Operation WARP Speed announced by President Donald Trump to rapidly develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Covid pandemic is the biggest challenge the world faces today. Muslim scientists are in the forefront of dealing with this challenge. This is particularly notable in a world where Islamophobia has gone mainstream in recent years.
The Scientist Couple:
Dr. Sahin, 55, is the son of a Turkish Muslim immigrant who worked at a Ford factory in Cologne, Germany. He is now among 100 richest Germans, together with his wife and fellow board member Dr. Oezlem Tuereci, 53, according to weekly Welt am Sonntag.
Sahin had been working on mRNA technology with his wife Dr. Tureci for more than 25 years. The couple, both children of Muslim Turkish immigrants who met while working at a cancer clinic, sold their first company, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, for $1.66 billion in 2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. Then they started BioNTech whose market value on NASDAQ has soared to $21 billion as of Friday’s close from $4.6 billion a year ago.
Deal With Pfizer:
BioNTech was working with Pfizer to develop a new flu vaccine when COVID-19 emerged in China. As the epidemic raged in China—making it a good place to hold vaccine trials—Dr. Sahin struck a deal with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. to test candidates there.
China soon lost its appeal as a potential vaccine testing ground because of the nation’s progress in containing the virus. It prompted Dr. Sahin’s call to Dr. Kathrin Jansen, head of Pfizer vaccine research, on March 1 to suggest a new partnership to test COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. Dr. Jansen didn’t hesitate. She told Dr. Sahin, “Of course, I’d be interested. It’s probably the most important thing we’ll ever do,” she told the Journal. Dr. Sahin offered to split the remaining development costs as well as the profits down the middle. Dr. Jansen accepted, he said, and the two companies began work on the project even before signing a contract. Pfizer said Dr. Jansen agreed in principle to work with BioNTech.
Dr. Moncef Mohamed Slaoui:
Earlier this year. President Donald Trump picked renowned Moroccan-born Muslim American immunologist Dr. Moncef Mohamed Slaoui to lead Operation Warp Speed, America’s COVID-19 vaccine program. Trump has compared this vaccine effort with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940s.
Dr. Slaoui is a highly recognized scientist and a successful leader who has delivered as GSK’s head of vaccines. He appears to have more of a can-do entrepreneurial approach to solving problems. He has recently been running a life-sciences VC fund in Philadelphia.
Announcing the appointment, Trump described Slaoui as “one of the most respected men in the world in the production and, really, on the formulation of vaccines…Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientist will be Dr Moncef Slaoui, a world-renowned immunologist who helped create 14 new vaccines,” Trump said at a White House news briefing. “That’s a lot of our new vaccines — in 10 years, during his time in the private sector,” he added.
Dr. Slaoui is an ethnic berber born in the Moroccan coastal city of Agadir which is famous for its beaches, according to Dr. Juan Cole of University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Dr. Cole has hailed Dr. Slaoui’s appointment in his blog post titled “I guess “Islam” doesn’t Hate us After All: Trump pins hopes for Vaccine on Muslim-American Slaoui”.
Dr. Slaoui is listed as an author on over 100 scientific papers. He worked for 30 years at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and for a decade he headed up its worldwide Research and Development department. He also served for two years as chair of GSK Vaccines, notes Yahia Hatim at Morocco World News. Slaoui, a former professor of immunology at the University of Mons, Belgium, said that Operation Warp Speed will make available a few hundred million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.
Muslim Americans in Health Care:
There are a large number of Muslim Americans on the frontlines of war against the novel coronavirus. Among them is Dr Syra Madad, Pakistani-American head of New York City’s Health and Hospitals System-wide Special Pathogens Program, who is featured in a 6-part Netflix documentary series “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak”.
Pakistani-American doctors are the 3rd largest among foreign-educated doctors in America. Among the notable names of Pakistani-American doctors engaged in the fight against Covid-19 are: Dr. Saud Anwar in Connecticut, Dr. Gul Zaidi in New York and Dr. Umair Shah in Texas. Their work has received positive media coverage in recent weeks.
Dr. Saud Anwar, a Connecticut pulmonologist and state senator, came up with a ventilator splitter to deal with the shortages of life-saving equipment. Dr. Gul Zaidi, an acute-care pulmonologist in Long Island, was featured in a CBS 60 Minutes segment on how the doctors are dealing with unprecedented demands to save lives. Dr. Umair Shah was interviewed about his work by ABC TV affiliate in Houston, Texas.
Pfizer has announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective. The couple behind this success are the husband-wife team of Turkish Muslim scientists who together founded BioNTech in Cologne, Germany. The US vaccine effort named Operation WARP Speed is also led by a Muslim American scientist Dr. Moncef Mohamed Slaoui. Covid19 pandemic is the biggest challenge the world faces today. Muslim scientists are in the forefront of dealing with this challenge. This is particularly notable in a world where Islamophobia has gone mainstream in recent years.
The author is a Silicon Valley based Pakistani-American analyst and writer. He blogs at www.riazhaq.com and can be reached at @haqsmusings