EU vaccine developers ‘overlooked’ in Coronavirus inoculation race

Some research centres and vaccine developers in Europe have been “overlooked” and are “missing out” in desperate efforts to curb the rapid spread of Coronavirus, it has been claimed.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

17 Mar 2020

The claim comes after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday announced €80m of financial support to CureVac, the innovative vaccine developer, by means of a European Investment Bank loan.

CureVac is part of CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation) and its CEO Richard Hatchett warns that $2bn is needed to develop the vaccine.

Daniel Menichella, CEO of CureVac, stepped down last week in the wake of a row following a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House at the beginning of March.


Speculation had been growing that Donald Trump wanted to acquire the company, which is based in Tübingen, Germany.

Anxiety grew despite statements from Bill and Melinda Gates, financial backers of CureVac, which seemed to play down the risk of a take-over.

When challenged about the apparent Trump take-over bid, German economics minister Peter Altmaier told reporters “Germany is not for sale” and German Health Minister Jens Spahn later said the issue was “off the table.”

With no sign of the global Coronavirus pandemic abating, fears are also growing that states may want to horde vaccines, if they can be developed in time to be deployed effectively.

“Research institutes such as IRBM were hoping for a coordinated effort with other European Member States. The Commission approach to intervention on this scale must be open and fair” Roger Casale, New Europeans

As well as the Gates Foundation, Norway ($3.6m) and the UK ($20m) have also contributed funds to CEPI, along with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which has contributed $140 million.

However, as more funding was needed to develop a possible vaccine, Germany asked for additional financing to ensure that the vaccine programme could continue to progress. The Commission announcement of the European Investment Bank loan will now add $80m to the total funding.

CureVac is not the only research centre in Europe working on a vaccine for the virus.

Last week, IRBM Science Park SpA, one of Italy’s largest research organisations for drug discovery and development, announced that “the hour of anti-Covid 19 vaccine has arrived.”

IRBM are working in partnership with the Jenner Institute at Oxford University The research started last December, when the Chinese identified the Coronavirus gene.

Trials will start in May on animals and on humans in June. The length of the trial period could be reduced if the global pandemic worsens significantly in the meantime.

Despite such advances, the Commission has made no reference to the Italian research or to other similar work going on around Europe.

Speaking to The Parliament Magazine on Tuesday, former UK Labour MP Roger Casale, of citizens’ rights group New Europeans, believes interventions by the Commission aimed at scaling up the development and production of a vaccine against the virus in Europe are to be welcomed in principle.

But he also said, “The Commission has made a terrible mistake to identify only CureVac as a recipient of funds from the European Investment Bank, albeit in the form of a loan.”

“Research institutes such as IRBM were hoping for a coordinated effort with other European Member States. The Commission approach to intervention on this scale must be open and fair.”

“CureVac is doing valuable work but so too are other research companies around Europe such as IRBM. Citizens want to be protected from the Coronavirus, but they also want decisions made in their interests. That should mean an unambiguous commitment to a European approach,” he added.

Meanwhile, EU High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell  says the bloc “is working on all fronts” to assist European citizens across the world who are affected by travel issues do to the outbreak.

Borrell spoke to Morocco Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita on Sunday to address the situation of European citizens trying to return to Europe and expressed his satisfaction that a solution was found and that return flights can continue until 19 March.

EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic, said, “We will do all we can to support EU citizens."

He went on, "The EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism has now via 24/7 service of our Emergency Response Coordination Centre facilitated the repatriation of over 800 EU citizens to Europe from China, Japan, Oakland, U.S. and most recently from Morocco.”

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