The Trump administration attempted to persuade a German firm developing a possible vaccine for coronavirus to move its research work to the United States, German officials said, raising fears in Berlin that President Trump was trying to assure that any inoculation would be available first, and perhaps exclusively, in the United States.
Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer was asked to confirm the attempts to court the German biotech firm Curevac.
He said: ‘I can only say that I have heard several times today from government officials today that this is the case, and we will be discussing it in the crisis committee tomorrow.’
Economy minister Peter Altmaier added ‘Germany is not for sale’ as he reacted to yesterday’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper headline ‘Trump vs Berlin’. The US said that the report was ‘wildly overplayed’ with an official saying: ‘The US government has spoken with many (more than 25) companies that claim they can help with a vaccine. Most of these companies already received seed funding from US investors.’
The official also denied that the US was seeking to keep any potential vaccine for itself. ‘We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help. And any solution found would be shared with the world.’
The reports prompted anger in Berlin, with Erwin Rueddel from the government’s health committee saying: ‘International cooperation is important now, not national self-interest.’ Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal FDP party, accused Trump of electioneering. He said: ‘Obviously Trump will use any means available in an election campaign.’
CureVac, founded in 2000, is based in the German state of Thuringia, and has other sites in Frankfurt and Boston. The firm markets itself as specialising in ‘development of treatments against cancer, antibody-based therapies, treatment of rare illnesses and prophylactic vaccines.’ The lab is currently working in tandem with the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, linked to the German health ministry. Last week, the firm mysteriously announced that CEO Daniel Menichella had been replaced by Ingmar Hoerr, just weeks after Menichella met with Trump, his vice-president Mike Pence and representatives of pharma companies in Washington. ‘We are very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months,’ CureVac quoted Menichella as saying on its website shortly after the visit.
On Sunday, CureVac investors said that they would not sell the vaccine to a single state.
‘If we are successful in developing an effective vaccine, then it should help and protect people across the world,’ said Dietmar Hopp, head of principle investor dievini Hopp Biotech Holding, in a statement.
Economy minister Altmaier welcomed the statement, saying it was a ‘fantastic decision’. He also pointed out that the government has the power to scrutinise foreign takeovers, saying that ‘where important infrastructure and national and European interests are concerned, we will take action if we have to.’