The Federal Republic of Germany will invest €300M in CureVac, the homegrown biotech that is developing a vaccine for Covid-19 using messenger RNA technology.
The unusually large investment will be made through the state-owned bank Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, which will gain a 23% stake in the company.
“CureVac retains complete operational and strategic independence,” Franz-Werner Haas, Acting CEO at the company, told me. “The federal government will not influence corporate policy decisions.”
The biotech, which has its headquarters in Tübingen, develops cancer immunotherapies and anti-infective vaccines made out of mRNA molecules, which make the patient’s cells produce therapeutic proteins. It will use the funds to progress its pipeline of mRNA drugs and vaccines and expand its business.
CureVac’s pipeline includes a vaccine for Covid-19. In May, the company announced promising preclinical results for the vaccine candidate, and Haas confirmed that the company plans to start phase I trials this month.
This hefty investment by the German government is one of the implementations of a ‘Corona Economic Stimulus and Future Technologies Package’ agreed on 3rd June to help the country to recover from the pandemic. The package includes a commitment of €1B to “promote flexible and scalable domestic production of key pharmaceuticals and medical devices.”
“With this package, we aim to secure more independence in the entire production process of medical substances and vaccines,” commented the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, in a statement. “This investment is a first step in this direction.”
The government investment in CureVac follows on from earlier funding of €80M granted by the EU in March to help fund its Covid-19 vaccine program.
The German government also expressed anger at the alleged acquisition attempt, with Altmaier quoted at the time by the national broadcaster ARD and others as saying “Germany is not for sale.”
CureVac’s vaccine program is less advanced than those of several competitors such as US firm Moderna and the German company BioNTech. When asked why the government had chosen to invest in CureVac, as opposed to others working on Covid-19 drugs or vaccines, the company chose not to comment. But many commentators are speculating on Twitter and elsewhere that the choice of company to invest in reflects on the earlier controversy surrounding US interest in CureVac.
In an article covering the investment, the UK newspaper the Financial Times also claimed to have seen a letter from the German Ministry of Finance suggesting that there was a need for early investment by the German government, due to CureVac’s plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange in July. These IPO plans could make it easier for the company to be taken over by a foreign investor and depart from Germany.
Although CureVac’s technology is promising, it isn’t the only Covid-19 vaccine developer that has received big chunks of public money in recent weeks. For example, BioNTech received a €100M loan from the European Investment Bank last week to finance the development of its mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine, which has already started human trials.
In late May, the US government put more than €1B behind big pharma AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, which started a phase II/III trial at the same time as the cash influx came in. This week, AstraZeneca also announced that it has formed a distribution agreement with Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance, with the aim of supplying the vaccine at no profit.
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