BioNTech founders Özlem Türeci und Uğur Şahin honoured with Axel Springer Award

Within just eleven months, Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin developed the world’s first vaccine against Covid-19 – giving millions of people back the hope of a free life. On Thursday evening, they were honoured with the Axel Springer Award for their groundbreaking research, innovative strength and social responsibility.

“It was very clear that there could be no better choice for the Axel Springer Award 2021 than the two founders of BioNTech,” said Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, at the start of the awards ceremony in the new Axel Springer building.

The award ceremony took place in compliance with all hygiene and security measures only in the circle of those directly involved. It was also broadcast via live stream:

In her acceptance speech, Özlem Türeci said: “This award is a true honor for us, and it is a recognition of our work. However, it is also a recognition for all those who followed this call to action and made the impossible possible – to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. (…) However, this award is not only about people. It also illustrates that science and the scientific community can truly make a difference. It also illustrates that joining forces is a tool, in particular if executed on every possible level with a sense of joint commitment and with a sense of urgency.”  

In an interview with Mathias Döpfner on stage, the two award winners, who see themselves as “innovators and problem solvers”, spoke about what drives them – and how they read about the cases in Wuhan at their breakfast table in January 2020 and decided to help. When asked how they stay so grounded despite of all their success, Uğur Şahin replied: “We focus on our work. We really love science. We really love working with scientists and trying to find out the truth and coming up with solutions.”

BioNTech founders Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin with the BILD front page printing plate from December 22, 2020 – the day after BioNTech’s vaccine was approved in the EU.© Axel Springer SE

In his laudatory speech the Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz described what makes BioNTech so special: “A committed team with world-leading know-how, and two founders who have put their whole heart in this effort and stayed humble in spite of all the success. In a world full of noise and speculation such an attitude is refreshing. And combined with the world-changing results it is extremely impressive.” 

Surprise guest Hans Hengartner, Professor at the Medical Faculty of the University of Zurich and in the Department of Biology at ETH Zurich, who has been a long-time companion of the two laureates, said: “Having an impact on patient’s lives and public health is at the end the greatest gain and holy grail of science. Your dedication and your curiosity combined with the highest ethical standards, your modesty and gratitude make you outstanding scientific leaders.”  

As a memento of the evening, Mathias Döpfner presented the two laureates with the BILD-title page printing plate from December 22, 2020 – the day after the BioNTech vaccine was approved in the EU.  “The exclusive interview of hope: ‘We have longed for this day’’“ was the headline quoting Uğur Şahin. 

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