CureVac CEO Hoerr takes leave of absence; German biotech rejects reports of U.S. approach for COVID-19 vaccine

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Ingmar Hoerr didn’t last long as CureVac’s newly re-appointed CEO. The German biotech said Monday that the company’s founder and chairman would take a temporary leave of absence for medical reasons unrelated to COVID-19.

The move is the latest in what has been a turbulent two weeks for CureVac AG.

Deputy CEO Franz-Werner Haas will lead the company, with the transition coming just five days after Hoerr replaced Daniel Menichella as CEO; Menichella took the helm from Hoerr two years ago.

The changes come as CureVac found itself the subject of rumors over the weekend that the U.S. government had approached it about acquiring exclusive rights to the company’s mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine.

The German biotech refuted the reports Sunday, affirming that it is developing its vaccine candidate to protect people globally from infection.

Reports in the German media citing undisclosed German government sources asserted that CureVac had been approached by U.S. officials, in particular President Donald Trump, about a potential acquisition or exclusive licensing deal for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The German government countered with their own offers to keep CureVac in Germany, according to the reports.

CureVac said its internal efforts are focused on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine “to protect people and patients worldwide.” The company added that it “abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology.”

CureVac is one of at least 53 groups developing a vaccine for COVID-19 (see “COVID-19: A Growing List of New Vaccines and Therapies in Development”).

CureVac’s largest shareholder, dievini Hopp BioTech holding GmbH & Co. KG, the investment vehicle of Dietmar Hopp, said in a statement, “This vaccine should be available not only regionally, but to people all over the world in solidarity to help and protect them.”

Hopp holds more than 80% of CureVac’s shares. The company’s second largest shareholder is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partnered with CureVac in 2015 to develop mRNA vaccines against infectious diseases (see “mRNA for the Developing World”).

CureVac said it is expanding its manufacturing capacity to potentially be able to provide “billions of doses” for pandemics such as COVID-19.

The controversy comes less than two weeks after Menichella joined other biopharma executives in meeting with Trump to discuss the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

CureVac didn’t respond in time for publication to questions on whether Menichella’s departure was related to any potential approach from the U.S. government.

Further analysis of the coronavirus crisis can be found at https://www.biocentury.com/coronavirus.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 16 at 2:30pm.

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