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The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is awarding honorary doctorates to immunologists and married couple Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci. Sahin and Türeci receive the honorary doctorates for their crucial contributions to research on the development of mRNA vaccines, and particularly for their work for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. The honorary doctorates will be presented during the celebration of the UvA Dies Natalis on Monday, 10 January 2022.
Prof. dr. Ugur Sahin and dr. Özlem Türeci

Prof. Ugur Sahin and Dr Özlem Türeci are known and renowned for their groundbreaking research on vaccines using messenger ribonucleic acid, better known as mRNA, a technique that was used in the current pandemic to develop vaccines for COVID-19.  Their decades of research on mRNA vaccines, first at the Medical University in Homburg-Saar and later at the Medical Faculty of Johannes Gutenberg University, laid the scientific basis for the founding of BioNTech. As BioNTech's Chief Executive Officer and Chief Medical Officer, respectively, Sahin and Türeci are at the frontier of innovations on mRNA vaccines and immunology. 

Sahin leads BioNTech's research and development of mRNA vaccines. This research has had a major impact on vaccine design and efficacy, and also the speed with which they can be generated. In addition, this research has laid the foundation for current mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

Türeci pioneered the concept of personalized vaccines based on mRNA together with Sahin. She led and initiated Project Lightspeed, the successful effort to produce and distribute a vaccine against COVID-19, now known as the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. In addition, Türeci has greatly contributed to the discovery of cancer antigens and several types of immunotherapies that are in clinical development.

Hopeful developments for immunology research

‘Our departments of Experimental Immunology, Medical Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology & Immunology are doing a lot of research on vaccine development, and there have already been several collaborations with Prof. Sahin and BioNTech for cancer and HIV vaccine development,’ says honorary supervisor Yvette van Kooyk. 

‘These unprecedented developments and their implementation give hope to society that the COVID-19 pandemic can be contained. The contributions of Prof. Sahin and Dr Türeci are therefore not only in the field of research and valorisation, but also have an impact on all fronts of our society today. These honorary doctorates can potentially give an enormous boost to the existing cooperation on the development of a vaccine against HIV and cancer, and to other top groups in Amsterdam in the field of immunity and infection research,’ adds honorary supervisor Theo Geijtenbeek.

About Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci

Ugur Sahin is CEO of BioNTech SE and professor (W3) in Translational Oncology & Immunology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He is also chair of the Scientific Board of the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON) in Mainz. 

Özlem Türeci was previously CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, which she co-founded with Sahin and Christoph Huber. The company was acquired by Astellas in 2016. She is currently president of the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) in Germany, Helmholtz Institute Professor for Personalized Immunotherapy, and Chief Medical Officer at BioNTech SE. 

For their scientific groundwork on mRNA therapies and their contributions to the development of mRNA vaccines,  Sahin and Türeci have received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Empress Theophano Prize for the Contribution of Science to Humankind, the Paul Ehrlich award, the Princess of Asturias Award, and William B. Coley award among other notable recognitions. 

Karen Maex, rector magnificus of the UvA: ‘Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci have carried out crucial research in the field of immunology in recent years. The scientific and social added value of the work of these scientists can hardly be overestimated, particularly in light of current events. It is a privilege to welcome them to Amsterdam and to grant them these honorary doctorates.’

Honorary supervisors are Professor Theo Geijtenbeek, professor of Molecular and Cellular Immunology, and Professor Yvette van Kooyk, professor of Molecular Cellular Biology and Immunology. They are co-directors of the Amsterdam Institute of Infection & Immunity at the Amsterdam UMC.

Besides Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will receive an honorary doctorate from the UvA.