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17 March 2020AmericasEdward Pearcey

US pitch for German COVID-19 vaccine maker prompts anger

German authorities have reacted angrily to media reports that US President Donald Trump offered $1 billion to CureVac, a Germany-based company seeking a COVID-19 vaccine, to move its operations to the US.

Berlin-based newspaper Welt am Sonntag broke and ran the front-page story on Sunday, March 15, claiming the offer was all about securing a COVID-19 vaccine “only for the United States”.

Funke Mediengruppe, one of Germany’s most-read newspapers, later reported Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas as saying that “German researchers are taking a leading role in developing medication and vaccines as part of global cooperation networks”.

“We cannot allow a situation where others want to exclusively acquire the results of their research,” he continued.

Erwin Rüddel, a conservative lawmaker on the Bundestag’s health committee, later argued in a German media outlet that “international cooperation is important now, not national self-interest”, while Peter Altmeier, Germany’s federal minister for economic affairs and energy proclaimed that “Germany is not for sale”.

Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, said any US purchase of CureVac was simply not feasible or possible, as the biosciences company would only develop a COVID-19 vaccine “for the world”, not individual countries.

Following the controversy, CureVac announced that it was focussing on the development of an “mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine to protect people worldwide”.

As a consequence, it added, the company is in contact with many other organisations and authorities worldwide, and is “abstaining from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology”.

“CureVac is leveraging its vaccine platform to focus on developing a potent, efficacious, safe and fast-to-produce vaccine against Covid-19,” said the statement.

According to several UK media reports, the German government was also offering its own financial incentives for the vaccine to stay in the country.

An unnamed US government official, speaking to the AFP news service, also on Sunday, said the reports of an offer had been “wildly overplayed” and denied the US was seeking to acquire and keep the vaccine for itself, as “any solution would be shared with the world”.

CureVac, which specialises in the development of treatments against cancer, treatment of rare illnesses, and prophylactic vaccines, has research sites in Frankfurt and Boston.

On Wednesday, March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, after the viral infection had spread to numerous countries and had infected almost 174,000 people, the majority of whom are in China. Globally, the death toll stands at just over 7,000. Currently, 152 countries have reported infections.

The European Commission has also responded by offering  up to €80 million ($87 million) of financial support to CureVac.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “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,” she added. “Their home is here, but their vaccines will benefit everyone, in Europe and beyond.”

The support would come in form of an EU guarantee of a currently assessed European Investment Bank ( EIB) loan of an identical amount, in the framework of the InnovFin Infectious Disease Finance Facility under Horizon 2020.

“We are committed to support further its EU-based research and innovation in these critical times,” said Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth. “Science and innovation in Europe are at the heart of our policies for protecting people's health.”

Updates on COVID-19's impact on IP can be followed on sister-magazine WIPR’s live blog.

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