Greek scientists Dr. Albert Bourla and Dr. George Yancopoulos, along with Dr. Ugur Sahin — who have all developed vaccines or treatments for the coronavirus in the past year — will be honored with the Bishop Athenagoras Human Rights Award by the Order of St. Andrew.
The Order, comprised of Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, recently decided to bestow the coveted award on the three men, whose discoveries made possible the first coronavirus vaccine and the first genetic treatment for Covid-19 this past year.
Sahin, a Turkey-born scientist, is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BioNTech, the small research firm in Germany that partnered with the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to produce the world’s first coronavirus vaccine.
He was the first scientist to take the genome of the coronavirus and put it through his company’s software to come up with ten different versions of a vaccine that would attack and neutralize it in the human body.
Two of those vaccine candidates were tested on human subjects; one of them proved to be spectacularly successful, providing at least 95% protection against the coronavirus , an almost unheard-of level of efficacy for any vaccine.
Sahin initiated and oversaw “Project Lightspeed,” the historic development of the first mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, moving from lab and clinical testing to conditional approval within an unprecedented 11-month period. He is also Chairman of the Scientific Management Board of the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON), also located in Mainz, Germany.
Bourla, a Thessaloniki-born veterinarian, has worked in various capacities for Pfizer for the past 28 years. As CEO of the Pharma giant, he was responsible for taking Sahin’s discovery of a workable coronavirus vaccine and adapting his company to manufacture it on a gigantic scale, enabling hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to be produced worldwide.
In partnership with BioNTech, he accomplished the unprecedented feat of developing and distributing the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine in under 300 days.
He has held several other leadership positions at Pfizer, including Chief Operating Officer and Group President of Pfizer Innovative Health which included the Consumer Healthcare, Inflammation & Immunology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Rare Disease and Vaccines business groups.
Bourla also created the Patient and Health Impact group, dedicated to increasing patient access, demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines, and business model innovation. After working for Pfizer for 25 years, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) on January 1st 2018, and on January 1st 2019 he became Pfizer’s Chief Executive Officer.
In the Spring of 2020, Bourla began to devote all his efforts to Pfizer’s development of a possible vaccine against Covid-19.
By late July of 2020, the company was among top developers of a potential vaccine, in partnership with the German firm BioNTech. In November, the Pfizer vaccine was proven to be at least 90 percent effective against the coronavirus. In subsequent trials and real-life situations, the vaccine has proven to be more than 95% effective.
Yancopoulos is the founding scientist and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, working alongside Founder and Chief Executive Officer Leonard Schleifer, M.D. In 2016, Yancopoulos was also named the President of Regeneron.
Born in 1959 to Greek immigrants, he grew up in Woodside, New York. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Columbia University and became a professor of biology by age 28. He spearheaded the invention of seven approved drugs and a technology platform designed to invent additional medications.
Yancopoulos is the holder of more than one hundred patents and is a principal inventor and developer of Regeneron’s six FDA-approved medicines. Forbes magazine states that Yancopoulos’ financial stake in Regeneron has made him a billionaire. He is the first research and development chief in the pharmaceutical industry to become a billionaire.
Casirivimab and imdemivab are the names for the investigational therapies developed by the firm. Although not yet officially established as treatments for Covid-19, the use of such unapproved products has been justified by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on the grounds of the existence of a public health emergency.
The two treatments are now used exclusively in adults and pediatric patients and who are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization. The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for casirivimab and imdevimab in the treatment of Covid-19 in these cases.
2021 Athenagoras Human Rights Award to be Bestowed by Patriarch Bartholomew
On Saturday October 30, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will present the Athenagoras Human Rights Award to the three scientists for their efforts in creating effective vaccines and treatments with such extraordinary rapidity.
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros hailed the choice by saying “I am personally grateful, and grateful on behalf of the entire Church and all human beings of good will, to these brilliant scientists.
“Through their leadership, the hard work of their teams and by the grace of God, they have been leaders in producing and delivering life-saving vaccines. No one this year is more deserving of this prestigious award than these three men, who have done so much to bring the world out of this scourge that has devastated so very many lives.”
Mother Theresa, Elie Wiesel and Mikhail Gorbachev previous Award recipients
In recognizing the contributions of Drs. Bourla, Sahin, and Yancopoulos to bringing an end to the global pandemic, National Order of St. Andrew Commander Limberakis noted: “As a physician myself, I have seen the horrors of Covid-19 up close, and so I am deeply aware of the great good that these men have accomplished by bringing these vaccines to the world quickly and safely. The service they have performed is truly transformative, and has given hope back to the world. We all owe them a profound debt of gratitude.”
The Athenagoras Human Rights Award was established in 1986 by the National Council of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America. The Award was named after one of the great Church leaders of the 20th Century, the late Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I.
The Award is presented every year at the Annual Banquet of the Order to a person(s) or an organization that has consistently exemplified by action, purpose and dedication, concern for the basic rights and religious freedom of all people.
Previous recipients include Nobel Laureate and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.