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Falling Walls Circle – Plenary Table: Translating Science into Medical Application

Falling Walls Foundation, Sartorius | Uğur Şahin, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Christoph Huber, Maria Leptin, Oscar-Werner Reif, Mariette DiChristina


New technologies enable easy and efficient editing of DNA sequences and ultra-fast sequencing of whole genomes. Recent advances in vaccine development yielded mRNA vaccines; potential applications include the promise to confer protection against various infectious diseases and to instil hope in combating cancer. Molecular technologies with the potential for biomedical application are evolving at an unprecedented speed now and they offer completely new possibilities for research and medicine. International experts from various fields will address opportunities and risks in the battle for improved global health.


Falling Walls Circle Tables give the spotlight to world-leading scientists and science strategists, along with policy-makers from Academia, Business and Politics to shape the agenda of the future of science.

Professor Uğur Şahin, MD, Co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech, is a physician, immunologist and leader in the development of novel approaches to fight cancer and infectious diseases. He initiated 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. Uğur Şahin has pioneered several breakthroughs enabling the development of mRNA vaccines and other types of immunotherapies. He also leads BioNTech’s research and development of neoantigen specific mRNA cancer vaccines, which are individually tailored and produced on demand. Şahin and his team developed RNA vaccine nanoparticle delivery strategies that target tissue-derived dendritic cells body-wide. They became the first to administer an mRNA encapsulated in a nanoparticle delivery system to humans. Şahin is coinventor of more than 500 filed patents applications and patents. His academic credentials include serving as a full professor (W3) in Translational Oncology and Immunology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, where he was the supervisor for more than 50 PhD students. He also holds the role of Chairman of the Scientific Management Board of the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON) in Mainz.

Emmanuelle Charpentier


Emmanuelle Charpentier is a French Nobel Prize-winning scientist. In collaboration with the team of the American biochemist Jennifer Doudna, she discovered a molecular tool known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR-Cas9). Charpentier shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Doudna. In 2013, Charpentier co-founded CRISPR Therapeutics, a company that employs the CRISPR methodology for gene therapy in humans, with operations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and headquarters in Zug, Switzerland. In 2015, after a three-year stint at the Hannover Medical School and The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, Germany, Charpentier moved her lab to Max Planck in Berlin, where she founded the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in 2018. Charpentier has received numerous honors and awards, including the Canada Gairdner International Prize (2016) and the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2018). She was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2015) and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (2018).

Prof. Christoph Huber, M.D. is a co-founder of BioNTech and has served as a member of our Supervisory Board since 2008. Prof. Huber has more than 50 years of professional experience in hematology, oncology and translational immunology. Prof. Huber served as Chairman of the Department of Hematology and Oncology at the Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz from 1990 to 2009 and, since 2009, has served as Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Hematology and Oncology. Prof. Huber was a co-founder of Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, now a subsidiary of Astellas. He is an executive board member of CIMT and a board member of Ci3. From 2018 to April 2019, Prof. Huber served as a member of the supervisory board of TRON. Prof. Huber earned his M.D. at the University of Innsbruck.

Maria Leptin

European Research Council

Maria Leptin received her PhD in 1983 for work on B cell activation carried out at the Basel Institute for Immunology, Switzerland. She studied the development of Drosophila as a postdoc at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, UK. She spent 1989-1994 as a group leader at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany and became Professor at the Institute of Genetics, University of Cologne, in 1994. She spent extended research periods and sabbatical visits at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), USA, the École normale supérieure in Paris, France, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Hinxton, UK. In January 2010, Maria Leptin was appointed Director of EMBO, a post she held until 2021, and led a research group at the at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). In November 2021, she was appointed President of the European Research Council. Maria Leptin is an elected member of EMBO, the Academia Europaea, the German National Academy, Leopoldina, the European Academy of Sciences and an Honorary Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences. She is Deputy Director of the Christiane-Nüsslein-Volhard Stiftung, member of the selection panel for the Eppendorf Award for Young European Investigators, has chaired evaluation panels for ERC Advanced Investigator Grants, and Synergy Grants and serves on advisory boards of several academic institutions and selection panels for funding institutions.

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Mon | Nov 08, 2021 | 11.30 AM - 11.55 AM Berlin Time

Falling Walls Breakthrough Conversation with Maria Leptin

Oscar-Werner Reif studied chemistry and molecular biology at the Leibniz University of Hanover and Vanderbilt University, USA, and received his doctorate in the field of technical chemistry. Since 1995, he has been working at Sartorius, initially in various managerial R&D functions in Germany, USA and Japan, and from 2005 onwards as R&D Director of the Biotechnology Division. In 2009, Reif was nominated to the Board of Directors of the French Sartorius subgroup Sartorius Stedim Biotech S.A.. In 2011, he was appointed honorary professor at Leibniz Universität Hanover. From 2011 to 2020, he was responsible for research and development of the entire Group and was a member of the Group Executive Committee, the company’s central management body. Since 2020, Oscar-Werner Reif has been the CTO of Sartorius AG and heads the Corporate Research. In addition to several commitments in professional associations Dr. Reif is an honorary professor at Leibniz University in Hanover, a member of various member of various supervisory boards as well as member of the board of DECHEMA and President of the German Technion Society (Deutschen Technion Gesellschaft).

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