Amid concerns of COVID-19 vaccine nationalism, Germany takes €300M stake in CureVac

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Less than three months after media reports suggested the U.S. had attempted to gain exclusive rights to a COVID-19 vaccine from CureVac, the German government is taking the extraordinary step of making its first direct investment in a biotech company.

Germany’s €300 million ($337.3 million) stake in CureVac comes as the Tübingen-based mRNA company prepares to start clinical testing of the vaccine this month.

The investment is part of the country’s €130 billion coronavirus stimulus package that in part aims to secure greater independence for the production of medicines and vaccines, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier said in a statement.

The deal comes amid concerns about the potential for vaccine nationalism at a time when the U.S. is aggressively investing in R&D and manufacturing capacity to produce the COVID-19 candidates (see “Manufacturing Limits Spark Fears of COVID-19 Vaccine Nationalism”).

Christof Hettich, co-founder and managing director of the company’s majority shareholder dievini Hopp BioTech holding, told BioCentury that the deal doesn’t stipulate that the money be spent on any particular programs, only that CureVac retain “some” of its R&D and manufacturing operations in the country.

“You will not find a single word that talks about a certain number of doses for Germany or the EU.”

Christof Hettich, dievini Hopp

The deal also doesn’t give Germany exclusive rights or first access to CureVac AG’s vaccine, according to Hettich.

“It was never at all a topic, not when we started or during contractual negotiations,” Hettich said. “You will not find a single word that talks about a certain number of doses for Germany or the EU.”

The investment, made via the government-owned development bank KfW, gives the German government a 23% stake in the biotech.

CureVac spokesperson Thorsten Schüller told BioCentury that its vaccine is to start Phase I testing in the next two weeks, with the first results available a few weeks later.

While the German government’s interest in CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine may not have come up explicitly during talks, Hettich didn’t dismiss it as a possible motive for the investment.

“The pandemic was part of the discussion of course,” he said. “It is possible that some of the relevant persons had in mind the rumors in the newspapers.”

He added that negotiations for the investment began about two months ago, which places the start of talks a couple of weeks after reports in the German media citing undisclosed German government sources said that the Trump administration had approached CureVac about a possible exclusive license or acquisition of its vaccine (see “German Biotech Rejects Reports of U.S. Approach”).

Prior to the investment, dievini Hopp had an ownership stake in CureVac of roughly 80%.

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