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Press Release No. 47 | 18 November 2021
DFG congratulates Uğur Şahin and his team on being awarded the German Future Prize 2021

Award recognises development of COVID-19 vaccine, which was based on important preliminary work originally carried out as part of DFG-funded projects

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) congratulates Professor Dr. Uğur Şahin, Dr. Özlem Türeci, Professor Dr. Christoph Huber and Professor Katalin Karikó, PhD, of BioNTech in Mainz on receiving the Future Prize 2022. The team received the distinction for its development of a COVID-19 vaccine based on preliminary work originally carried out as part of DFG-funded projects. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented the award at a ceremony in Berlin on Wednesday, 17 November 2021.

“Professor Uğur Şahin and his team have done extremely well to win this prize and we are absolutely thrilled,” said the DFG President, biochemist and medical scientist Professor Dr. Katja Becker. “The outstanding work done by the scientists involved is a fine example of the long-term benefits of knowledge-driven basic research – and it also shows how such insights can to some extent be transferred to areas that suddenly confront us with completely new challenges requiring swift action, as is the case with the coronavirus pandemic.”

The so-called mRNA vaccine platform – used by BioNTech for its COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer – does in fact originate from preliminary work done between 2006 and 2008 as part of a project carried out at a DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) based in Mainz dealing with cancer research. The head of the project was Uğur Şahin, who later went on to become the founder and current CEO of BioNTech. His wife Özlem Türeci was also involved in a project as part of the same CFC. The spokesperson for the CRC was immunologist and oncologist Christoph Huber, who was also one of the subsequent founders of BioNTech and now sits on the company’s supervisory board.

Şahin describes the work funded by the DFG as having made “a vital contribution” to investigating fundamental scientific questions along the way to developing the mRNA vaccine platform now being used. “This preliminary work helped lay the foundations for the development of our vaccine.”

The Federal President has awarded the German Future Prize every year since 1997 in recognition of innovative research achievements and their technological development in marketable form. With a value of €250,000, the prize is one of the most important innovation awards in Germany.

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Detailed information on DFG funding activities in relation to the coronavirus pandemic can be found on the DFG website via: