Germany Takes 23% stake in CureVac

Biotech “protected” from US grip?

17.06.2020 -

The German federal government is taking a 23.1% stake, worth €300 million, in privately owned biotech CureVac. It’s an unusual move for Berlin, but economics minister Peter Altmaier said the state will not to seek to influence corporate policy decisions.

The cash injection will increase CureVac’s capital and will be used for the further development of its proprietary pipeline and the mRNA platform technology it is using to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, along with the expansion of business activities generally.

It was not immediately clear whether the government would seek to gain preferential access to a successful vaccine. Altmaier said only that it wants to provide financial security for the homegrown think-tank.

Based at Tübingen, CureVac is one of many biotech firms worlwide and one of only two major firms in Germany researching a vaccine for Covid-19. The other is BioNtech,  based at Mainz, which is working together with US pharma giant Pfizer.

At a press conference to announce the decision, Altmaier asserted that “Germany is not for sale. We aren’t selling off the family silver. I am a great supporter of a global free-market economy, but there are certain areas where our position must be very clear.”

The government said the move was urgent because the company is planning a US listing and there were fears it could be bought out by American interests who might try to secure its potentially successful vaccine exclusively for the US market

CureVac came to international attention this March, when news agencies reported that the administration of US president Donald Trump appeared to be trying to woo the company away. Fuel was added to the fire as then-CEO Daniel Menichella resigned for unexplained reasons and it emerged that he had met in Washington with Trump, US vice president Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Phase1/2a trials planned this month

In May, CureVac initiated preclinical trials ahead of launching a phase 1/2a clinical trial with its lead candidate this month. The company said the vaccine had generated “high levels” of virus-neutralizing titers in animal models similar to what it saw with mRNA vaccines it is studying for rabies, flu and respiratory syncytial virus.

The Covid candidate to be tested “has the potential to induce a strong immunologic response to neutralize the virus,” CureVac said, adding that it is prepared to manufacture several hundred million doses per year at its German facility.

CureVac is majority owned by dievini Hopp BioTech holding, the investment vehicle of Dietmar Hopp, founder of German software giant SAP. Hopp said he was pleased that the government has recognized the importance of biotechnology, and that “this key industry now will receive support beyond early research.”

Hopp, who by his own account has been a “very active supporter of the development of novel and innovative therapies and processes in German biotechnology,” may have been indirectly referring to his native country’s long reluctance to embrace the technology.