CureVac â the German biotech at the center of a Donald Trump acquisition rumor â has received a grant from the European Commission to expedite construction of a plant set to make a potential mRNA vaccine against coronavirus.
The European Commission (EC) offered up to âŹ80 million ($88 million) of financial support to German firm CureVac this week in its efforts to support the development and manufacture of a potential vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). At the time of writing, the disease â labelled as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) â has killed 8,247 globally.
The investment will be used to support CureVacâs fourth manufacturing suite at its site in TĂźbingen, Germany, intended to support production of the firmâs messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine candidate for COVID-19, management said on a press call Tuesday.
âWe are very grateful to the EU commission for the financing and this will help us further expand our capacities,â Florian von der MĂźlbe, chief production officer and co-founder said. âWe will use it to speed up production of the suite already under construction.â
CureVac, one of the earliest entrants in the mRNA space, has three manufacturing suites capable of producing mRNA material. The third received manufacturing authorization from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last December, and according to the firm this is already producing vaccine material aimed at combatting coronavirus.
This suite, according to Mariola Fotin-Mleczek, chief technology officer, could provide up to 10 million doses per campaign of a potential coronavirus vaccine, based on the dose volume CureVac experienced in its rabies vaccine trials. The fourth suite under construction would fall in the âbillion doses range,â she said on the call.
The firmâs mRNA platform is based on its in-house nucleotide sequence library and its carrier molecules: both lipid nanoparticle (LNP) â developed in partnership with Acuitas Therapeutics and Arcturus Therapeutics â and its own CureVac Carrier Molecule (CVCM). The firm received an $8.3 million grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in January to develop a vaccine platform against COVID-19. Phase I trials are expected to begin in early summer, the firm said.
CEPI has also funded a project to help develop CureVacâs âRNA printer.â The $34 million funding last year aims to deliver a transportable, down-scaled, automated mRNA printing facility, providing LNP-formulated mRNA vaccine candidates for rapid response to new and previously unknown pathogens.
EC president Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday: â[CureVac is] working on a patent that has been approved and gone through the specific processes that are necessary, so they are highly specialized in this field. And it is their prediction that they might be able towards fall to have a vaccine that is fighting coronavirus.â
Like CureVacâs press conference, von der Leyenâs words were in response to allegations that US president Donald Trump had attempted to acquire the company and secure the potential vaccine for exclusive use in the US last weekend, after now former CEO Daniel Menichella visited the White House.
CureVac told press that while it was honored to have been invited as the sole German company at a meeting with various pharma firms at the White House to discuss potential coronavirus therapies and vaccines, but it rejected any rumor of a buy-out attempt by Trump or any US government organization.
âCOVID-19 is an international virus and should be fought on an international basis,â said Franz-Werner Haas, Deputy CEO.
mRNA and COVID-19
CureVac is not alone in developing a vaccine based on messenger RNA.
This week, a Phase I study evaluating Moderna Therapeuticsâ investigational mRNA vaccine mRNA-1273 began at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle.
The rapid move into clinical trials is due to information garnered in studies for related viruses including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), Dr Muhammad Munir, lecturer in molecular virology at Lancaster University, explained on UK-based radio station LBC Tuesday.
âJumping directly into the volunteer Phase I trial is pretty unique, but [applicable in this case] given the safety weâve learnt over the years with SARS and MERS. Itâs moving on pretty fast on different stages after development.â
Still, it will be at least eight months until such a vaccine could become available, though Munir explained that while this sounds like a long time in the current environment, âwithin the vaccinology field this is the shortest time you can count on for availability of a vaccine.â
Meanwhile, Pfizer has teamed up with Germanyâs BioNTech SE for a potential mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine. The letter of intenet, announced Tuesday, aims to accelerate development of BioNTechâs potential first-in-class COVID-19 mRNA vaccine program, BNT162, expected to enter clinical testing by the end of April 2020.
âThis is a global pandemic, which requires a global effort,â said Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech. âIn joining forces with our partner Pfizer, we believe we can accelerate our effort to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to people around the world who need it.â