[Ip-health] FT: Berlin acts to stop US poaching German coronavirus vaccine company

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sun Mar 15 22:02:56 PDT 2020


Berlin acts to stop US poaching German coronavirus vaccine company
Concern that Washington may seek monopoly on any breakthrough in fight
against disease

There are fears in Berlin that countries could take an 'every man for
himself' approach to combating coronavirus

Guy Chazan in Berlin YESTERDAY

Berlin is seeking to stop a German company trying to come up with a vaccine
against coronavirus from moving its research to the US, amid fears
Washington may seek a monopoly on any breakthrough in the fight against the

A German government source said that ministers were looking at ways to keep
the company in question, biopharma group CureVac, in Germany.

On Sunday the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported that Donald
Trump was trying to lure CureVac to the US with generous offers of money.

Welt quoted unnamed German officials as saying the president was doing
everything in his power to acquire a vaccine for the US — “but only for the

The report has reinforced fears in Berlin that countries could take
an “every man for himself” approach to fighting coronavirus, rather than
pooling resources and sharing potential scientific breakthroughs that would
help to stop the disease.

A German government spokesman declined to comment on the Welt story. But
the health ministry issued a statement saying the government had “a great
interest in ensuring that vaccines and compounds against the new type
coronavirus are also developed in Germany and in Europe”.

“With this in mind, the government is in an intensive exchange with the
firm CureVac,” the ministry added.

German officials have pointed to Berlin’s law on foreign trade, under which
the government can scrutinise bids from non-EU countries “if national or
European security interests are at stake”.

A US official said the Welt story was “wildly overplayed”. He said the US
government had spoken with more than 25 companies that claim they can help
with a vaccine, and most of them had already received seed funding from US

“We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help,”
he said. “And any solution found would be shared with the world.”

This month, CureVac reported on its website that its chief executive Daniel
Menichella had been invited to the White House to discuss “strategies and
opportunities for the rapid development and production of a coronavirus
vaccine” with Mr Trump and members of his coronavirus task force.

In the press release, Mr Menichella was quoted as saying that the company
was “very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine
candidate within a few months”. It said it hoped to start clinical trials
early this summer.

A few days after the meeting, Mr Menichella left the company, which is
based in the south-western town of Tübingen. He was replaced as chief by
Ingmar Hoerr, CureVac’s founder.

The Welt report kicked up a political storm in Germany. “The exclusive sale
of a potential vaccine to the US must be prevented using all available
means,” said Karl Lauterbach, health policy spokesman for the Social
Democrats, the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government.

“Capitalism has limits,” he tweeted. “We can’t continue to be reliant on
medicine from China and the US. Our policy on research needs to change.”

“It’s an ethical, not an economic or national issue,” said Bärbel Bas,
deputy head of the SPD’s parliamentary group. “If there’s a vaccine, it
must be available for everyone. Anything else would be a scandal.

“In a pandemic, it’s about everyone, not ‘America First’,” she added.

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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