Following Pfizer's announcment of positive results from phase three trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, which is being developed in partnership with German biotech outfit BioNTech — indicating that it could be 90% effective against the coronavirus, stock prices of both the companies have rallied on.
The news drove a 14% surge in BioNTech shares, lifting the fortunes of its billionaire founder, Ugur Sahin, and the firm's largest investors, the German billionaire brothers Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, reports Forbes.
Soaring stock prices boosted Sahin's net worth by more than $500 million to about $4.4 billion, while the Struengmann brothers collectively added nearly $1.5 billion to their fortunes, with each now worth an estimated $10.4 billion.
Sahin, 54, first joined the billionaires list earlier this year when BioNTech shares rose on the back of positive news from its vaccine collaboration with Pfizer. He founded BioNTech in the German city of Mainz in 2008 with the backing of the Struengmann brothers, who had already invested in an earlier company founded by Sahin, and his wife, immunologist Ozlem Tureci in 2001.
The market value of Nasdaq-listed BioNTech, which the pair co-founded, had ballooned to $21 billion as of Friday's close from $4.6 billion a year ago, with the firm set to play a major role in mass immunisation against the coronavirus. That firm, Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, was sold to Astellas Pharmaceuticals in 2016 for $460 million, plus an additional $940 million if certain milestones were met.
It was yet another successful exit for the twin billionaire healthcare investors, who first made their fortunes with Hexal, the generic drugmaker they founded in 1986 and then sold to Novartis for about $7 billion in 2005.
From humble roots as the son of a Turkish immigrant working at a Ford factory in Cologne, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin now figures among the 100 richest Germans, together with his wife and fellow board member Oezlem Tuereci, 53, according Reuters citing the weekly Welt am Sonntag.
"Despite his achievements, he never changed from being incredibly humble and personable," said Matthias Kromayer, board member of venture capital firm MIG AG, whose funds have backed BioNTech since its inception in 2008.
He added Sahin would typically walk into business meetings wearing jeans and carrying his signature bicycle helmet and backpack with him.
Doggedly pursuing his childhood dream of studying medicine and becoming a physician, Sahin worked at teaching hospitals in Cologne and the southwestern city of Homburg, where he met Tuereci during his early academic career. Medical research and oncology became a shared passion.
Tuereci, the daughter of a Turkish physician who had migrated to Germany, said in a media interview that even on the day of their wedding, both made time for lab work.
Together they honed in on the immune system as a potential ally in the fight against cancer and tried to address the unique genetic makeup of each tumour.
Unlike earlier vaccines, which relied on weakened forms of a virus to spur immunity, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA — the molecules in cells that control protein production — to direct the immune system to make coronavirus-fighting antibodies.
It's a new technology that's also being pioneered by Cambridge-based biotech firm Moderna, which saw its stock rise by 9% on Monday.
Moderna's share price has been on a tear since January thanks to its own Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which is currently in phase three trials. That growth has already minted two new billionaires this year — CEO Stéphane Bancel, with a net worth of $2.4 billion, and Harvard professor Dr Timothy Springer, with a net worth of $1.3 billion. It could soon produce another - MIT professor Bob Langer, an early investor in Moderna like Springer, is currently worth an estimated $930 million.
Pfizer's announcement drove broader optimism among investors that a post-Covid world was within reach, with the stock market punishing firms such as Zoom and Amazon that had benefited from consumers confined to their homes.