Citing the expression of European ideals, the Theophano Foundation awarded its annual Empress Theophano Prize year to Drs Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci from Germany, the BioNTech scientists who developed the first coronavirus vaccine, in an award ceremony at the iconic Rotunda in Thessaloniki on Wednesday.
“They participated with all their might in the frantic race of science against the coronavirus, and they came first,” said Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Kathimerini’s executive editor Alexis Papachelas, who was the event’s host, noted that this year “the foundation chose to award two people who prove that Europe has dynamics and things to offer.”
He also extended his personal thanks to the pair. “You have the gratitude of all of us and myself, that I lived the battle with the coronavirus, when we still did not have the vaccine weapon in our hands,” he said.
For his part, Stavros Andreadis, chairman of the foundation’s Governing and Advisory Committee, noted that the award seeks to “highlight the common European ideal and promote it to young people, in uncertain times,” adding that the same reasoning was employed last year when the prize was awarded to the Erasmus student education and exchange program.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Herman Van Rompuy, the former president of the European Council, stressing that this year the committee unanimously selected the two pioneering scientists who managed “to turn fear into hope.”
Sahin noted that the evolution of mRNA is a turning point for scientific progress, comparable to the use of insulin that was introduced 40 years ago. He added that vaccines will play a role in tackling future pandemics, in fighting incurable diseases, while evolving mRNA technology we will be able to develop individualized treatments – starting with cancer.
Tureci also touched on the problematic funding of the research.
“Fortunately, some people believed in us,” she said.