Another Covid-19 Vaccine Developer Gets Help From Big Pharma
By Ruth Bender
BERLIN -- Chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer AG is
joining forces with Germany's CureVac NV to support the biotech
firm in its development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Under the deal, Bayer, best known for its aspirin, will support
CureVac with expertise in drug development and infrastructure,
including supporting clinical work, regulatory affairs and
supply-chain management, the two companies said. The partnership is
part of a now-familiar pattern in which big pharmaceutical
companies have swooped in to help smaller players with promising
Covid-19 vaccine candidates.
Pfizer Inc. and Germany's BioNTech SE co-developed the first
Western-made vaccine to make it to market.
AstraZeneca PLC, meanwhile, teamed up with the University of
Oxford on a vaccine now being rolled out in the U.K., India and
Such partnerships can allow smaller firms to move from
development and testing to more complicated and expensive human
trials necessary to gauge a vaccine's effectiveness and safety.
Should a vaccine work, a big pharmaceutical company's deep pockets
and expertise in manufacturing and distribution is crucial to
rolling it out on a large scale.
A CureVac spokesman said production isn't part of the Bayer
agreement but that Bayer is testing whether it can also support
CureVac with manufacturing capacities.
Bayer, which is fighting a protracted legal battle in the U.S.
over its Roundup herbicides, focuses its drug development mostly on
cancer, women's health and cardiovascular diseases and is currently
expanding its gene-therapy business. Vaccines, however, aren't a
CureVac, based in the southern German state of
Baden-Württemberg, last month started a late-stage clinical trial
of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, called CVnCoV. It expects
results by the end of the first quarter.
CureVac is backed by German biotech investor Dietmar Hopp, the
German government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Drug
giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC in July also acquired a 10% stake.
In March, the German government accused the Trump administration
of trying to lure CureVac to the U.S.
The company uses the same gene-based technology used in the
vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech and one by Moderna Inc.
The CureVac effort's timeline is significantly behind those
other vaccines. But soaring infection rates and a slow start to
vaccination drives -- in part blamed on initially low supplies --
has underscored the continued need for new shots.
Franz-Werner Haas, chief executive of CureVac, said Bayer's
expertise and infrastructure will help make its vaccine "even more
rapidly available to as many people as possible."
CureVac aims to produce up to 300 million doses of the vaccine
in 2021 and up to 600 million in 2022. The European Commission, the
executive arm of the European Union, has secured 405 million doses
of the vaccine if it gets regulator approval.
Financial terms of the deal with Bayer weren't disclosed.
CureVac will distribute and sell the vaccine in Europe, if
approved, but Bayer will have options to market the shot
Write to Ruth Bender at Ruth.Bender@wsj.com
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