Turkish-German vaccine inventors win prestigious science prize

By Alyssa McMurtry

OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Two Turkish-German scientists won the most prestigious science award in the Spanish-speaking world for their contributions to creating COVID-19 vaccines, it was announced Wednesday.

Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, cofounders of the German company BioNTech, were among the seven scientists to win a Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

The Princess of Asturias Foundation hailed the rapid discovery of COVID-19 vaccines as an “extraordinary demonstration of the ability of science.”

“I am deeply humbled to be considered a worthy ambassador for the cause this award represents: the improvement of life as the noblest goal of science,” said Türeci.

Şahin and Türeci are a husband-and-wife team who surprised the world when they announced that the vaccine they developed together with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer was more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

Theirs was the first vaccine released, faster than many had predicted, and it relied on cutting-edge mRNA technology that Şahin and Türeci had championed.

Şahin is from Turkey but moved to Germany and Türeci was born in Germany to Turkish parents. They now stand as role models for Turkish immigration to Germany and have become among the richest people in the country.

American immunologist Philip Felgner, Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó and the American researcher Drew Weissman were also awarded their prize for their foundational scientific discoveries.

Derrick Rossi, who was behind the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and Sarah Gilbert, who developed the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, also shared the prize.

“The Princess of Asturias Award is a wonderful recognition that science can make a difference for humanity. I am very grateful that we have been able to contribute to the fight against this pandemic and help so many people with our research and work,” Şahin said.

Past winners of this award, often likened to the Nobel Prize of the Spanish world, include Jane Goodall for her biological research and Svante Pääbo, who unearthed humanity’s connections to Neanderthals through DNA sequencing.