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Germany spends €300m on Covid-19 vaccine company

Government bank leads investment push with CureVac to bring to market highly anticipated intervention

A German public bank, the KfW, will take on part of a biotechnology company called CureVac, which is developing a promising vaccine candidate to prevent coronavirus.

The German ministry of economics announced last week that the government-owned bank will buy 23 per cent of the company’s shares for €300 million. The goal is to give CureVac financial security without being in a position in which the government would be asked to make business decisions, the ministry said.

“The German government is participating in this promising company because it expects to accelerate developments and enable CureVac to financially exploit the potential of its technology,” said economics minister Peter Altmaier. “This is of great importance in terms of industrial policy because we need these important research results and technologies in Germany and Europe.”

“With this clear support we gain financial reach and stability for the further development,” said CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas.

Theresia Bauer, science minister of the company’s home state Baden-Württemberg, welcomed the investment. “I am extremely pleased about this good news for Baden-Württemberg as a research location,” Bauer said.

She added that her ministry had supported the company, located in Tübingen, since its early steps in 2001. “We are proud that it has become such a valuable player,” Bauer said.

The coronavirus pandemic has swept the globe over the past six months, with around nine million confirmed cases and approximately half a million deaths.

The news of the investment came as the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for the regulation of clinical trials and the evaluation of vaccines in Germany, said it approved a trial of CureVac’s vaccine candidate. The application procedure was completed within 9 working days, the institute said, due to “intensive scientific advice” and a prioritisation of potential Covid-19 treatments.

The clinical trial will comprise 168 healthy adult volunteers, 144 of whom will be vaccinated. This is the 11th approved clinical trial of a preventive, specific Covid-19 vaccine candidate in humans worldwide, and the second such trial in Germany.

For this vaccine, CureVac focuses on using genetic material called “messenger RNA” that is considered promising, but has not been deployed in human vaccines before. Several vaccine products will be needed to fight the pandemic and ensure an adequate global supply, the Paul Ehrlich Institute said.

To further support Covid-19 vaccine research, the science ministry announced a programme worth €750m last week. The programme is open to all companies that are active in vaccine development and production, and are located in Germany.

“The programme does not focus on a single company from the outset,” said Germany’s science minister Anja Karliczek. “We need to take a multi-track approach if we are to ensure that vaccines are available quickly and in sufficient quantities.”

The programme aims to increase vaccine production capacities in Germany. A large part of vaccine productions for the country is outsourced to China and India, Karliczek said.

“We must therefore ensure now—and also in the future—that free capacities for vaccine production are secured in Germany,” the minister said.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe