Turkish-Born Muslim Scientists Behind Pfizer's Successful COVID19 Vaccine

Pfizer has announced today that its COVID19 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 Morocco-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. 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. 

Dr. Sahin and Dr. Tureci

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 Covid19 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. Moncef Slaou

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 MadadPakistani-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 COVID19 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. 

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Nguyen said…
Pfizer isn't a part of operation warp speed
Riaz Haq said…
Nguyen: "Pfizer isn't a part of operation warp speed"

Pfizer is not part of Operation WARP Speed. However, US has pre-purchased millions of doses of Pfizer's vaccine. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/22/us/politics/pfizer-coronavirus-vaccine.html
Anonymous said…
About those Muslim immigrants to Germany

By Scott Sumner

A few years ago, Germany was heavily criticized for taking in roughly a million refugees from mostly Muslim countries. Today we discover that the promising Pfizer vaccine that might help to end the pandemic was developed by the children of Turkish migrants to Germany.


Admittedly, most of the recent refugees are not likely to produce important medical breakthroughs. But Şahin’s father worked in a German car factory, and I doubt that many people in Germany thought the child of one of those Turkish factory workers would someday help to save the world economy. As Bryan Caplan likes to point out, more people leads to more ideas–especially when the extra people are given opportunities denied in their home country.

Once this pandemic is over, I very much hope the US government reconsiders the ban on travel from certain Muslim countries.
Riaz Haq said…
What can great #Muslim scientist Avicenna teach us in the time of #Coronavirus in the shadow of dysfunctional, failed states like #UnitedStates, #Brazil, or #India and their incompetent leaders – #Trump, #Bolsonaro, and #Modi. #COVID19 https://aje.io/3nula via @AJEnglish ]

An Avicenna for our time?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a resurrection of interest in Avicenna, or Ibn Sina (980-1037) as he is known in the Muslim world, a Muslim scientist from Iran who has had a profound and lasting influence on the field of medicine.

His seminal work, Al-Qanun, was key in the development of medical literature and educational programmes and a cornerstone in the history of medicine. According to historian Jamal Moosavi, Avicenna’s works continued to play a pivotal role in the development of medicine in the Muslim world and Europe for 600 years after his death.


Every day at 7pm in New York, we come out to our balconies or front doors to bang on pots and pans and express our gratitude to physicians, nurses, and other public health workers who are risking their lives to care for and cure those infected with the coronavirus.

We are grateful that they continue to do their job despite being forced to work severely understaffed and ill-equipped due to a military culture that spends billions of dollars on military hardware but has left healthcare in shambles.

We are also appreciative of the work thousands of scientists do around the world to help provide the needed knowledge and biomedical breakthroughs to combat the disease, while also advising governments on what policies to implement to contain it.

In the shadow of dysfunctional and failed states like the United States, Brazil, or India and their incompetent leaders – Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Narendra Modi – who care more about protecting the interests of the economic and ideological groups they serve than the health of their people, figures like World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci have emerged as admirable personifications of reason and sanity amid the chaos.

Indeed, medical staff and scientists have emerged as the reluctant heroes of this pandemic.

Amid the pandemic, scientific communities are struggling to distinguish between good science and bad science. “Science has an ugly, complicated dark side,” Jackie Flynn Mogensen wrote in a recent article for Mother Jones, “and the Coronavirus is bringing it out.” Her argument here is: “What was once a marathon has been compressed to a 400-meter dash: Researchers race to deliver results, academic journals race to publish, and the media races to bring new information to a scared and eager public.”

Questions are surfacing which the medical profession and science is not ready or prepared or equipped to imagine and address.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” Joe Humphreys recently observed in the Irish Times, “has been a shock not just to the health system. It has given a jump-start to moral consciences. Things we tolerated as a society – such as low pay for essential workers and income barriers to hospital treatment – suddenly seem abominable.”

But who is to address such vital matters? Physicians as scientists or moral philosophers as critical thinkers, or both, or neither?

Such issues have been the subject of study of generations of scholars in the field of sociology of science. Central to this discipline is the idea that no scientific inquiry, or scientific methodology is entirely independent of social and political factors, or even religious predilections, framing the nature of questions raised and answers speculated.
Riaz Haq said…
Even before the pandemic, BioNTech was gaining momentum. The company raised hundreds of millions of dollars and now has more than 1,800 people on staff, with offices in Berlin, other German cities and Cambridge, Mass. In 2018, it began its partnership with Pfizer. Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $55 million to fund its work treating H.I.V. and tuberculosis. Also in 2019, Dr. Sahin was awarded the Mustafa Prize, a biennial Iranian prize for Muslims in science and technology.


Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci sold Ganymed for $1.4 billion in 2016. Last year, BioNTech sold shares to the public; in recent months, its market value has soared past $21 billion, making the couple among the richest in Germany.

The two billionaires live with their teenage daughter in a modest apartment near their office. They ride bicycles to work. They do not own a car.

“Ugur is a very, very unique individual,” Mr. Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in the interview last month. “He cares only about science. Discussing business is not his cup of tea. He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principles. I trust him 100 percent.”

In Germany, where immigration continues to be a fractious issue, the success of two scientists of Turkish descent was cause for celebration.

“With this couple, Germany has a shining example of successful integration,” wrote the conservative-business site Focus.

A member of Parliament, Johannes Vogel, wrote on Twitter that if it was up to the far-right Alternative for Germany party, “there would be no #BioNTech of Germany with Özlem Türeci & Ugur Sahin at the top.”

“If it were up to critics of capitalism and globalization,” he added, “there would be no cooperation with Pfizer. But that makes us strong: immigration country, market economy & open society!”

Dr. Sahin has had little time for politics this year. BioNTech has been so busy developing a vaccine that the company has not finalized the financial details of its partnership agreement with Pfizer.

“Trust and personal relationship is so important in such business, because everything is going so fast,” Dr. Sahin said. “We still have a term sheet and not yet a final contract on many things.”

Dr. Sahin said he and Dr. Türeci learned about efficacy data on Sunday night and marked the moment by brewing Turkish tea at home. “We celebrated, of course,” he said. “It was a relief.”
Riaz Haq said…
#Muslims Not Only Survived, We Thrived in #Trump’s 4 years in Office. #American have grown increasingly accepting of #Islam , and Muslim civic participation has skyrocketed. #Islamophobia - Tablet Magazine


in the four years that marked Trump’s first term of office, Muslim Americans have not only survived—in many ways, we’ve thrived. Americans have grown increasingly accepting of Islam, and Muslim civic participation has skyrocketed. Therein lies a larger story that explains at least some of the poll results showing considerable increases in support for Donald Trump among supposedly victimized minority groups. Most Muslim Americans remained firmly in the Biden camp, with an estimated 69% voting for the Democratic candidate, according to a preliminary exit poll. But so far it also looks like Trump’s support grew by 4 percentage points among Muslims. That is part of the larger trend that is also observable among Latinos, Blacks, and gays, and which has been causing shock and disbelief within progressive and media circles where members of “marginalized groups” are expected to be radicals who view themselves primarily in terms of their victimhood. The flipside of the media skew is not that all of a sudden Muslims, or any other group, are throwing in their lot with Trump or the GOP—rather, it’s that they are assimilating ever more fully into an American culture in which they feel freer to define themselves.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan to purchase 1.2 million #COVID19 #vaccine doses from Sinopharm. China approved a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm on Thursday, its first approved shot for general public use. https://news.yahoo.com/pakistan-purchase-1-2-million-044319918.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw&tsrc=twtr via @YahooNews

"The Cabinet Committee has decided to initially purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm, which will be provided free of cost to frontline workers in the first quarter of 2021," Pakistani Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Twitter.

The minister told Reuters the purchase would be of the vaccine candidate developed by Sinopharm's Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

Sinopharm has another candidate, developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, which is also in phase III trials.

Pakistan earlier this month approved $150 million to buy COVID-19 vaccines, initially to cover the most vulnerable 5% of the population, but did not announce which one it would procure, saying it could tap more than one source.

"If the private sector wants to import any other internationally-approved vaccine, it can," Hussain said on Thursday.

The country of 220 million is in the midst of another spate of infections, with 58 deaths on Wednesday taking its death toll past 10,000. It also reported 2,475 new infections, taking the total to 479,715.

Pakistan is currently running phase III clinical trials for CanSino Biologics' vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, led by the government-run National Institute of Health.

Hassan Abbas of AJ Pharma, CanSino's local representative, told Reuters on Wednesday that recruitment for the trial will be completed in 10 days.

"Preliminary results will be shared 4 or 5 days after recruitment is completed, and these will include the efficacy of the vaccine," Abbas said, adding that thus far there have been no serious side effects.

AJ Pharma is one of five companies that have applied for a license to distribute the vaccine in Pakistan once approved, he added.

Riaz Haq said…
Why grandparents can’t find vaccines: Scarcity of niche biotech ingredients
Lipid nanoparticles for RNA vaccines were used in small quantities a year ago. Now Pfizer and Moderna can’t get enough.


In late December, as part of a deal to obtain additional doses, the Trump administration agreed to use the Defense Production Act to help Pfizer gain access to more lipids, people familiar with the discussions have told The Washington Post.

And the federal government continues to use its authority under the rarely used Korean War-era law to direct domestic suppliers of lipids to prioritize Pfizer’s orders, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy matters.

“The scale-up of the raw material supply chain took longer than expected,” Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose said in an emailed statement.

“Scaling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have ramped up the first-ever commercial scale production of an mRNA vaccine,” she said, referring to messenger RNA technology.


People around the world saw a “light at the end of the tunnel” when it was announced that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate may be 90 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19, and Canadian company Acuitas Therapeutics is behind a core component of the vaccine.


“The vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is using...a messenger RNA, which are the instructions to produce a protein that's found in the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Thomas Madden, Acuitas Therapeutics President and CEO told Yahoo Canada.

“The message is administered, gets into our cells, the cells produce the COVID-19 protein, and our immune system recognizes that protein and develops an immune response, which protects us against future infections.”

The Vancouver-based biotechnology company specializes in the development of lipid nanoparticles (LNP) delivery systems for molecular therapeutics. Dr. Madden explained that this messenger RNA (mRNA) used in the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is “very fragile” after administration and needs to be put in a carrier to “protect it,” which is where Acuitas Therapeutics technology comes into play.

“It needs to be in this carrier so that the carrier can deliver it inside cells,” he said. “The lipid nanoparticles technology that Acuitas provides is a critical component, the vaccine simply can't work without that delivery technology.”
Riaz Haq said…
Migration of academics: Economic development does not necessarily lead to brain drain


A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, developed a database on international migration of academics in order to assess emigration patterns and trends for this key group of innovators. Their paper was published in PNAS on Jan. 18.

As a first step, the team produced a database that contains the number of academics who publish papers regularly, and migration flows and migration rates for all countries that include academics who published papers listed on the bibliographic database Scopus. The migration database was obtained by leveraging metadata of more than 36 million journal articles and reviews published from 1996 to 2021.

"This migration database is a major resource to advance our understanding of the migration of academics," says MPIDR Researcher Ebru Sanliturk. Data Scientist Maciej Danko adds: "While the underlying data are proprietary, our approach generates anonymized aggregate-level datasets that can be shared for noncommercial purposes and that we are making publicly available for scientific research."

MPIDR Researcher Aliakbar Akbaritabar explains how they processed the bibliographic data in order to receive information about the migration patterns of academics: "We used the metadata of the article title, name of the authors and affiliations of almost every article and review published in Scopus since 1996. We followed every single one of the roughly 17 million researchers listed in the bibliographic database through the years and noticed changes in affiliation and, by using that tactic we know how many academics left a given country every year."

The researchers' empirical analysis focused on the relationship between emigration and economic development, indicating that academic setting patterns may differ widely from population-level ones.

Previous literature has shown that, as low-income countries become richer, overall emigration rates initially rise. At a certain point the increase slows down and the trend reverses, with emigration rates declining.

This means that favoring economic development has the counterintuitive effect of initially increasing migration from low- and middle-income countries, rather than decreasing it.

Is this pattern also generally valid for migration of scientists?

Not really.

The researchers found that, when considering academics, the pattern is the opposite: in low- and middle-income countries, emigration rates decrease as the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increases. Then, starting from around 25,000 US Dollars in GDP, the trend reverses and emigration propensity increases as countries get richer.

MPIDR Director Emilio Zagheni adds, "Academics are a crucial group of innovators whose work has relevant economic effects. We showed that their propensity to emigrate does not immediately increase with economic development—indeed it decreases until a high-income turning point and then increases. This implies that increasing economic development does not necessarily lead to an academic brain drain in low- and middle-income countries."

Unveiling these and related patterns, and addressing big scientific questions with societal implications, was possible only because of painstaking work in preparing this new global database of migration of academics. "We are putting the final touches on an even more comprehensive database, the Scholarly Migration Database, which will be released on its own website soon," says software developer Tom Theile.

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