Germany wards off US coronavirus vaccine interest

Employee Philipp Hoffmann, of German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, demonstrates research workflow on a vaccine for the coronavirus at a laboratory in Tuebingen, Germany, March 12, 2020. (Reuters)

Germany staked its claim on Sunday to ongoing work into a vaccine against the coronavirus, after media reports claimed US president Donald Trump was trying to poach research from a German company.

“The German government has a strong interest in producing vaccines in Germany and Europe,” a spokesperson for the economy ministry told media group Funke.

The ministry also pointed out that the government had the power to scrutinize foreign takeovers of German companies, “especially when it comes to national or European security.”

According to a report in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Trump is trying to secure exclusive rights to a potential vaccine against the global health threat that has now killed some 6,000 people, which is being worked on by biotech firm CureVac.

The vaccine would then be “only for the United States,” a source close to the German government told Die Welt, whose front page on Sunday read “Trump vs Berlin.”

Yet a US official told AFP Sunday that the report was “wildly overplayed.”

“The US government has spoken with many (more than 25) companies that claim they can help with a vaccine. Most of these companies already received seed funding from US investors.”

The official also denied that the US was seeking to keep any potential vaccine for itself.

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

CureVac investors also told German media that they would not sell the vaccine to a single state.

“We want to develop a vaccine for the whole world,” said Christof Hettich, CEO of CureVac’s primary investor dievini Hopp Biotech Holding.

CureVac, founded in 2000, is based in the German state of Thuringia, and has other sites in Frankfurt and Boston.

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The firm markets itself as specializing in “development of treatments against cancer, antibody-based therapies, treatment of rare illnesses and prophylactic vaccines.”

The lab is currently working in tandem with the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, linked to the German health ministry.

Last week, the firm announced that CEO Daniel Menichella had been replaced by Ingmar Hoerr, just weeks after Menichella met with Trump, his vice-president Mike Pence and representatives of pharma companies in Washington.

“We are very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months,” CureVac quoted Menichella as saying on its website shortly after the visit.

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