Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Injects $52 Million Into CureVac

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Injects $52 Million Into CureVac GmbH
March 6, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Friday that it will stake $53 million on clinical-stage German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, as the the largest private foundation in the world attempts to zero in on mRNA-based vaccine technologies as a way to improve public health worldwide.

CureVac's will also get a $24 million injection from longstanding investor dievini Hopp BioTech.

As part of the deal, the foundation will also provide separate funding to develop prophylactic vaccines based on CureVac's proprietary messenger RNA (mRNA) platform.

"If we can teach the body to create its own natural defenses, we can revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases," said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Technologies like mRNA give us confidence to place big bets for the future. We are pleased to partner with CureVac who has been pioneering this technology."

CureVac focuses its efforts on optimizing mRNA-based technologies, most recently developing novel mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies and prophylactic vaccines against infectious diseases, both under the brand RNActive. Its RNArt is a molecular therapy that triggers the body's own production of therapeutic proteins without stimulating the immune system.

All of that science, and the track record to prove it has promise to produce lifesaving vaccines, made it attractive to the foundation, said execs.

"This collaboration will ensure that one of medicine's most promising new technologies is applied to the challenge of reaching all people with the affordable, life-saving vaccines they need," said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation made headlines earlier this week when Bob More, a senior adviser for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,told attendees at the CALBIO2015 Conference in San Francisco Monday that it expects there will be a cure for Ebola by 2016, but that it doubts that science will find a cure for malaria during our lifetimes “if we can’t even cure measles in California.”

More, a former biotech venture capitalist also took aim at the current model of Big Pharma and capital markets solving widespread health problems in developing countries via a fee scale. But he added that now is a ripe opportunity for sciences advances to help the poor worldwide.

"This is biology's century," he said. "Markets do not serve the poor adequately. Charity needs to fill the gap."

The Gates Foundation is controlled by its three trustees: Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett and has an endowment of around $42 billion, with $28 billion of that donated by Gates alone. It has invested in public health solutions across the globe, including an increasing focus on the health of women and children, and with massive programs targeting HIV/AIDS, Ebola and clean drinking water.

That led More to the topic of public health, saying that while he does believe there will be an Ebola vaccine by the end of 2016 based on the science currently available, he is less optimistic about widespread vaccination programs that are often viewed with suspicion. It’s a challenge made less easy by the current fad of “ant-vaxxing” made popular by upper class, primarily white populations in affluent areas, like Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay.

"If we can't eradicate measles in California, how could we eradicate malaria" in our lifetime, said More. Still, More said there is always a place for a relationship between industrial leaders and large corporations and private philanthropy.

"We must go beyond philanthropy and bring innovation to underserved populations through public/private partnerships," said More. "Industry is a powerful, unbeatable force for change. Incentives work, but we need to remove disincentives first. Our fundamental belief at the Gates Foundation is that all lives have equal value."

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Last week controversy erupted over the compensation package for Sanofi’s new CEO, Olivier Brandicourt, with several French government officials decrying the amount, calling it "incomprehensible." Brandicourt could walk off with as much as $4.5 million in a “golden handshake” payment in addition to making $4.76 million a year. That base figure is comprised by a fixed annual salary of $1.36 million a year, which is supplemented by a performance-related bonus of between 150 to 250 percent, as well as stock options and performance shares.

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