German government takes a stake in vaccine developer CureVac

Research is currently being conducted worldwide to develop a coronvirus vaccine, as shown here in a Thai laboratory. [EPA-EFE | Diego Azubel]

In the global race for a coronavirus vaccine, the German government is investing €300 million and acquiring a stake in the biotech company CureVac, regarded as one of the leaders in the development of a vaccine in Germany. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) and Dietmar Hopp, SAP co-founder and co-founder of CureVac’s main investor, dievini Hopp BioTech, announced at a press conference on Monday (15 June) that the German government will acquire 23% of the company’s shares.

With its investment in CureVac, the government is for the first time investing in a company in the innovative biotechnology sector.

CureVac is active in the development of cancer and antibody therapies as well as vaccines. In Germany, the company is considered the leader in the development of a coronavirus vaccine. In May, the company published the first positive preclinical results of the project, and the first clinical trials with healthy volunteers are to start this month.

Despite its direct investment, the government will have no influence on the company’s entrepreneurial decisions.

Altmaier described today’s step as “a first important implementation of the comprehensive coronavirus economic stimulus package,” which was presented on 3 June. With this investment, the government wants to provide the company with financial security so that it can continue to work on developing vaccines with great commitment.

Hopp was pleased that a “key industry” was now being supported. “The coronavirus crisis has made the biotechnology industry’s outstanding relevance visible for patients, our society and the world,” he told the press conference.

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Stake in CureVac “of particular importance in terms of industrial policy”

According to Altmaier, the state’s involvement is also “of particular importance in terms of industrial policy,” as the company’s research results and technologies are decisive for Germany and Europe, particularly concerning international competition.

In March, there had been reports that the US government had shown interest in acquiring exclusive rights to a COVID-19 vaccine.

In light of the global race to develop a vaccine, calls for a confident European presence and more independence have been growing within the EU in recent months and are now being taken up in various initiatives.

For example, the German government’s coronavirus stimulus development package aims to achieve greater independence in the production of active ingredients and their precursors, as well as in vaccine production.

The investment in CureVac is “the first step in this direction,” Altmaier said.

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EU pushing for independence in vaccine development 

As Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) announced on Sunday (14 June), the German EU Council Presidency in the second half of the year will also be used to make Europe more independent in the health sector.

Above all, Europe must find a way “to transfer the production of critical drugs and medical products back to Europe and to create a European reserve,” Spahn said.

At the start of June, the health ministers of the Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany had already formed a vaccination alliance with the aim of securing the EU’s supply of a coronavirus vaccine.

To this end, the four countries recently concluded an agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca enabling them to order up to 400 million doses of a vaccine currently under development.

The European Commission is also expected to receive in the coming days a mandate from national governments to negotiate the up-front purchase of coronavirus vaccines and, if necessary, conclude contracts with pharmaceutical companies to secure access to vaccines and build production capacity.

“Many countries in the world have already secured vaccines. Europe has not yet done so,” Spahn explained.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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