CureVac Chief Takes Non-Coronavirus Leave of Absence

Leave of absence

There has been something of a furor over reports in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that claimed the Trump administration offered a “billion dollars” for exclusive rights to a coronavirus vaccine in development by German company CureVac, “but only for the USA.”

The Trump administration has said the reports are “wildly overplayed,” while the German health ministry told Reuters the report was accurate. “We confirm the report in the Welt am Sonntag.”

CureVac has denied reports the Trump administration attempted to acquire the company or its research.

“There was and there is no takeover offer from the White House or governmental authorities,” said Franz-Werner Haas, interim chief executive officer of CureVac, said in a conference call today. “Neither to the technology or to CureVac at all as a company.”

Today, CureVac announced that Ingmar Hoerr, the chief executive officer of the company, was taking a temporary leave of absence for medical reasons, emphasizing that the leave is not caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The company has appointed Haas, the deputy chief executive officer, to take on Hoerr’s duties until his return.

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Like Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, whose mRNA-1273 vaccine against the coronavirus began dosing patients yesterday, CureVac focuses on messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA transports the code from DNA that encodes for proteins, to the ribosomes, where it is translated into the actual protein. The mRNA is engineered to get the body to manufacture specific coronavirus-like proteins that stimulate the immune system to respond to the actual coronavirus. A traditional vaccine uses a weakened virus or proteins from the surface of the virus to stimulate the immune system without making the patient sick.

On March 15, CureVac confirmed internal activities to develop a coronavirus vaccine. As such, it is in contact with various government health authorities and other organizations about its vaccine program, but, in that announcement, said it “abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology.”

“Nature has invented mechanisms to activate our immune system against infectious diseases,” said Mariola Fotin-Mleczek, CureVac’s chief technology officer. “With our unique messenger RNA technology we mimic nature and give our body the information about how to fight against the virus. The combination of mRNA science, disease understanding, formulation and production expertise make CureVac a unique player to fight against any infectious disease, no matter whether they are seasonal or pandemic.”

CureVac has another thing in common with Moderna—neither company has brought a product to market, although they are both on the cutting-edge of mRNA therapeutics.

Other companies are also working on vaccines to the coronavirus, although few experts believe it will have an effect on the current pandemic. The companies are typically working to develop vaccines using different approaches, which will have different timelines of production and varying levels of potency. According to Fortune, some investigators are working on temporary vaccines that might provide a couple of months’ worth of protection while longer-lasting vaccines are developed.

The typical timeline for vaccine development is 12 to 18 months. As such, a vaccine is unlikely to be developed in time to have an effect on the current pandemic, which began in January in China and has since spread around the world. Still, it has been noted that the current timeline by Moderna and other companies is unusually fast. Some of this is the result of newer technologies, while others are related to the pressing need to stem the spread of the virus.

CureVac has a number of partnerships with biopharma companies to develop therapeutics and vaccines for a number of diseases, including cancer. These include Eli Lilly, Boehringer Ingelheim, CRISPR Therapeutics, Casebia Therapeutics, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Harvard Medical School, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Yale University School of Medicine, Genmab and others.

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