Brussels has weighed in on the diplomatic spat between Germany and the US over CureVac – the company developing a vaccine against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
The European Commission said Monday it would offer the company based in the German town of Tübingen a guaranteed loan to a tune of €80 million "to scale up development and production of a vaccine against the coronavirus in Europe."
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, and Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Ambroise Fayolle, discussed the issue with CureVac management via videoconference, according to an official press statement.
The company's Chief Executive Franz-Werner Haas denied in the videocall that CureVac had received a takeover bid from the United States. He also rejected allegations that the company had been requested to reserve production for the United States and that its scientific personnel were offered jobs in the US.
The suggested support would come in the framework of the InnovFin Infectious Disease Finance Facility( IDFF) under the Horizon 2020 programme.
The IDFF provides financial products to innovative companies actively developing innovative vaccines, medical and diagnostic devices for combatting infectious diseases.
Clinical trial costs, development of prototypes, pre-clinical R&D costs and working capital requirement can be included in the financing, available directly through the European Investment Bank.
“In this public health crisis it is of utmost importance that we support our leading researchers and tech companies. We are determined to provide CureVac with the financing it needs to quickly scale up development and production of a vaccine against the Coronavirus. I am proud that we have leading companies like CureVac in the EU. Their home is here. But their vaccines will benefit everyone, in Europe and beyond.”
Biotech Startup on COVID-19 Frontlines
CureVac, a German biopharmaceutical company founded in 2000, is known to have developed novel technology to render vaccines stable without refrigeration.
Preliminary studies have also suggested the proprietary technology holds potential for rapid response to COVID-19. The little-known German biotech outfit has already started its coronavirus vaccine development program, hoping to launch clinical testing by June 2020.
US-German Vaccine Spat
CureVac hit the headlines after a bombshell report that broke the past weekend in German weekly Welt am Sonntag, claiming that US President Donald Trump was attempting to “poach” exclusive rights to the business's coronavirus vaccine.
Die Welt, citing sources close to the German government, reported the vaccine would be “only for the United States”, despite Germany trying to present its offers to CureVac, which has branches in Germany’s Frankfurt and Boston, Massachusetts in the US.
The news stoked outrage in Germany, with Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn appearing on ZDF program Berlin Direkt on Sunday night to say that in the case of any successful trials, the vaccine would be made available to everyone who needs it.
Earlier, CureVac said in a press release that the company’s CEO Daniel Menichella had been summoned to the White House on 2 March to discuss the coronavirus vaccine with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Days later, on 11 March, CureVac announced shifts in its top management, with Manichella being replaced by company founder Ingmar Hoerr.
CureVac majority owner, billionaire philanthropist Dietmar Hopp, sought to allay concerns on Monday, assuring that the business would stay in Germany. However, he seemed to confirm that Trump had sought to secure exclusivity rights.
When asked why he had rejected an alleged offer by Trump worth €1 billion, Hopp was quoted by Germany's Sport1 as saying:
"It is not possible that a German company develops the vaccine and that it is used exclusively in the U.S. That was not an option for me."
The Tübingen-based company denied it was approached with an offer.
In a Twitter statement on 16 March, CureVac dismissed allegations made in the press, adding it “had not received an offer before, during and since the Task Force meeting in the White House.”
To make it clear again on coronavirus: CureVac has not received from the US government or related entities an offer before, during and since the Task Force meeting in the White House on March 2. CureVac rejects all allegations from press.— CureVac (@CureVacAG) March 16, 2020
There has been no official US statement in response to the reports, while two senior officials allegedly dismissed some of the German news accounts of the story as “overblown”.
The current reports come as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads to over 140 countries and territories, currently infecting more than 185,000 people with over 7,300 dead, prompting the World Health Organization to declare it a global pandemic.