The reputable German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (The World on Sunday) has reported that U.S. President Donald J. Trump has tried to “poach” German scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine so he could secure exclusive rights to it for the US. (1)
According to the report, the German biotech company CureVac has been offered “large sums of cash” by the Trump administration. Currently, CureVac is working with the federally-owned Paul Ehrlich Institute for Vaccines and Biomedical Medicines (2) on a coronavirus vaccine like many other biotech laboratories around the globe.
The German government has responded by offering significant financial incentives to the company to remain in Germany. Senior German politician and professor of epidemiology Karl Lauterbach has commented on the report saying “The exclusive sale of a possible vaccine to the USA must be prevented by all means. Capitalism has limits.”
CureVac themselves also commented saying that they have been in talks with multiple organizations and governments but that there are no plans for “acquisitions”. They also said that the firm “abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for the acquisition of the company or its technology.”
At the same time, in a statement last week (3) the company confirmed that their CEO, Daniel Menichella has been invited to the White House for a meeting with Donald Trump to “discuss strategies and opportunities for the production of a coronavirus vaccine.”
Other members of the German Health Ministry (4) have also commented on the situation saying:
“The German government is very interested in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the new coronavirus are also developed in Germany and Europe,” the German newspaper quotes a Health Ministry spokesperson. “In this regard, the government is in intensive exchange with the company CureVac.”
Other German officials also confirmed the newspaper’s report – “We confirm the report in the Welt am Sonntag,” a representative said.
In a bit of good news, Florian von der Muelbe, cofounder and a chief production officer at CureVac has told Reuters last week (5) that the German company hopes they will be ready for human trials on a vaccine by June or July 2020. “We are very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months,” Menichella said in a statement.
This optimistic timeframe of just a few months is in contrast with a statement by Anthony Fauci, the U.S. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who said that while he also expects human trials to begin in a few weeks, he expects the end product to be ready “in 12 to 18 months” (6).
With the U.S. stock market plummeting to a historic low for the past 3 decades (7) and Donald Trump’s approval rating also taking a huge hit after his administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis (8), it’s not surprising that the U.S. president is trying to take drastic steps to regain the favor of his voters.
Trump was nearing a 50% approval rating – a personal high for him – until recently after his impeachment backfired and bolstered his support (9). This boded pretty well for him for the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election, however, the coronavirus crisis and stock market crash seem more and more likely to stop the president’s rush to a second mandate.
Whether his favorability would have increased with him “purchasing” a foreign coronavirus vaccine exclusivity or not remains unclear. So far, the German biotech company seems to continue working with the support of the German government and not for a U.S. exclusivity.