A Turkish-German husband-and-wife team have emerged as frontrunners in the race to market a vaccine against coronavirus, which would be an extraordinary achievement.

Turkish-born Ugur Sahin, 55, is CEO of German biotech firm BioNTech.

He co-founded it with his wife and fellow board member Özlem Türeci, 53, and his former teacher, Prof Christoph Huber, an Austrian cancer expert.

What is the vaccine breakthrough?

BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer announced that their vaccine could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, according to early results from Phase 3 trials.

It is among 11 vaccines that are currently in the final stages of testing worldwide, involving other, rival pharmaceutical firms and labs.

The world has never before seen such rapid progress towards vaccine development – normally the research and trials take seven or eight years. BioNTech’s Covid team was given the title “Project Lightspeed”.

How would it work?

Prof Sahin and Dr Türeci are immunotherapy specialists, whose efforts were previously focused on cancer patients: they used messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules to trigger certain proteins in cells, which could then train the immune system to attack cancer cells.

The role of mRNA in sending genetic instructions to cells could, Prof Sahin realised, be adapted to the fight against coronavirus.

The idea is to trick the immune system with viral proteins, so that antibodies can then attack the virus.

When news of the virulence of coronavirus was reported in January, based on data from the outbreak in Wuhan, China, BioNTech was already in a good position, as it had teamed up with Pfizer in 2018 to develop mRNA-based flu vaccines.

BioNTech reported on Monday that the vaccine efficacy rate – above 90% – had been reached a week after the second dose.

Protection would be achieved 28 days after the first vaccine dose.

Out of 43,538 participants in the trial, 94 Covid-19 cases were confirmed.

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