- The U.S. government reportedly sought to access research by Germany's CureVac on an experimental coronvirus vaccine, raising concerns in the European country and deepening the intrigue surrounding the biotech, which last week ousted its CEO.
- In a Sunday statement, CureVac said it rejected "current rumors of an acquisition." Reports of an offer from the U.S. to bring CureVac's research stateside, published first by the German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag, were also denied by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, who wrote on Twitter that the "Welt story was wrong."
- On Mar. 12, CureVac abruptly announced it was replacing its CEO of nearly two years, Daniel Menichella, who days earlier had attended a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss drugmaker responses to the spread of the new coronavirus.
CureVac gave little reason last week for Menichella's ouster, saying only that an investor in the company sought to have founder and board chairman Ingmar Hoerr take a more active role. News of a potential U.S. government overture to CureVac, while disputed, raises further questions.
The Welt story, published Sunday, quoted a Germany government source who described the U.S. as seeking to secure CureVac's research exclusively. A German official cited by The New York Times, however, said it was unclear whether the Trump administration sought only for research to be conducted on U.S. soil.
CureVac's vaccine program for SARS-CoV-2, as the new coronavirus is now known, is in early stages. In the March White House meeting, now ex-CEO Menichella said the company hoped to start a Phase 1 safety study in June.
The biotech's vaccine technology is built around messenger RNA, an approach that's similar to U.S. biotech Moderna and German drugmaker BioNTech, both of which are developing prophylactic coronavirus treatments.
Rather than use an attenuated virus or viral proteins, companies developing mRNA vaccines hope to spur the body to produce its own protective antibodies by injecting the genetic code for the desired protein. While promising technology, mRNA vaccines have not been approved for use in treating any disease.
CureVac's work is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, or CEPI.
"As a consequence, the company is in contact with especially CEPI and many other organizations and authorities worldwide, however abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology," CureVac said in its statement.
If true, a Trump administration offer to acquire the technology of a foreign biotech could spur debate about how governments treat biotechnology research within their national borders.
"The longer-term danger of the CureVac story would be if countries start to view biotech companies as national strategic assets and begin to 1) scrutinize and limit international investment even more and 2) limit the sharing of scientific knowledge," Brad Loncar, a prominent biotech investor and CEO of Loncar Investments, wrote on Twitter.
CureVac is headquartered in Tübingen, Germany, about 150 miles northwest of Munich, but has offices in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ingmar Hoerr, the company's chairman, led the biotech until 2018, when he was succeeded by Menichella. Hoerr did not attend the White House meeting in March, a company spokesperson confirmed last week to BioPharma Dive.
A new request for comment was not returned by publication of this story.