What is your business determination for 2019

Caring for the patient is my focus

Even if the solution is not yet in sight, sticking to it and correctly interpreting setbacks, that is central for Özlem Türeci. With this conviction, she is responsible for the clinical development work of the Mainz biotechnology company BioNTech. A comprehensive clinical study began in the spring to test the effectiveness and safety of a possible corona vaccine. Türeci, who, after studying medicine at the Saarland University at the University Clinic in Mainz, made her first experiences with founding, is, in addition to her scientific and entrepreneurial work, chair of the top research cluster for individualized immune intervention (Ci3).

Miss Dr. Türeci, do you remember a decisive moment that shaped your academic and professional focus?

There was not one moment that I was definitely shaped by my family. My father was a physician who was very attentive to patients and as a child I already noticed the demands and attitudes towards my current job from him, namely that caring for the patient is the focus. Everything else, whether the choice of studies or the profession, and later also the decisions relating to setting up a company, followed this focus.

Was there actually any preparation for the plan to apply your academic knowledge as a founder and entrepreneur?

I did not prepare specifically. More importantly, I am blessed with a network of mentors and companions that I can fall back on at all times. From these I learned that developing problem-solving skills and getting better is a way, not a goal. My goal was to make the latest scientific knowledge available to the patient. Everything that I encountered and will come across on the trip there - and little of it had to do with my academic training - is to be approached as a technical task.

In your opinion, which characteristics are important in order to drive innovation as a founder?

For me, it's about finding the balance between courage and humility if you are convinced of your idea, if it has a solid foundation and you want to pursue an innovation in the long term. I emphasize “sustainable” because founding itself is always only the first step. The real achievement is to bring the project to the touch down.

The right balance of courage and humility is crucial if you want to start a business successfully and steadily.

When you are involved in the development of drugs, as I do in my company, that is often a particular challenge. In addition, there is the willingness to take responsibility and take your own risk. By the way, an invention is not immediately an innovation, which has to be seen, and that's what I mean when I speak of humility. The development of an innovative drug follows a long, arduous path along which further innovations from other disciplines are constantly being fed in - similar to engineering.

You have just mentioned “humility” yourself - what would you recommend to young founders to deal with possible setbacks?

In drug development, we are, by nature, always faced with insights that others would describe as setbacks. A principle that repeatedly proves to be timeless for me is to identify which things we really cannot change and to accept them. In return, however, the determination and the courage to concentrate on the things that are in our sphere of influence - it is often bigger than you first think.

What you can influence should be approached with determination and courage.

That's because the search for innovation is a constant process of trial and error. We don't just accept that as something that happens and from which we learn: We are actively looking for these situations. Basically, I believe that such an approach helps you in many areas not only to overcome setbacks, but to turn them into something positive.

Does this constant trial and error have an impact on the way you manage your employees?

In drug development, being innovative means moving into uncharted territory over a longer period of time. That requires an enormous amount of self-motivation. I am fortunate to be able to work with an incredibly great team, where each and every one of us has the will to try things out, to research further, and brings along this personal motivation.

As an entrepreneur, I have the right to set an example of what I ask of my employees.

If bosses then set a good example, it can develop the dynamism that is needed to solve a challenging task with a company. We are currently experiencing such a challenging task with the search for a vaccine against the coronavirus.

At the beginning you mentioned patient wellbeing as your professional focus. How does the rationality necessary for exact science relate to the emotional components of the impact of medical research results?

For me this is not mutually exclusive, it is mutually beneficial, and that's how I live it every day in my work. Objectivity and sobriety are necessary when analyzing data. A completely different topic is the empathy that I, as a medical professional, then need in order to achieve the best possible work with the data obtained - for the individual patient and fundamentally for society, as is the case now with vaccine development.

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