The first human trial for a coronavirus vaccine took place in the US even as the killer pathogen has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people across the globe. While the most optimistic experts don't see a coronavirus vaccine before the year runs out, vaccine research has shifted gears further. And, along with that a bare-knuckle fight brewed on the business side of vaccine research.
German biotech firm CureVac, which is trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, is at the centre of the spat between the United States and Germany. The controversy came to the fore when German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that US President Donald Trump was trying to lure CureVac with monetary benefits in order that the US will have exclusive rights to the vaccine it would develop. The US denied the report, which Welt am Sonntag wrote based on quotes by an anonymous German government source.
What is CureVac?
The biotechnology company is closely linked with the German health ministry. It is headquartered in the south-western German city of Tübingen. CureVac also has offices in Frankfurt and Boston. The tumult in the company started at the beginning of March, when its CEO Daniel Menichella visited the White House to discuss matters related to expediting efforts to make a vaccine for coronavirus. Menichella held discussions with President Trump, vice-president Mike Pence as well as senior government officials working on the coronavirus task force.
On March 11, Menichella, a US citizen, was apparently fired by CureVac management. The company said he was leaving the firm and that Ingmar Hoerr, CureVac's founder, was replacing him. On Monday, March 16, CureVac issued a statement saying that it did not receive any offer from the White House.
What did Trump want?
The German newspaper reports said the US wanted the biotech company to move its research operations to the United States so that it will have monopoly rights over the vaccine when it is developed. CureVac's Boston office does not engage in vaccine development at the moment.
How did the Germans react?
Germany fought tooth and nail to avoid CureVac falling into US hands, reports said. The health ministry officials confirmed the reports were true and that the country would rather want the virus vaccine available to all. "Capitalism has limits," Karl Lauterbach, a member of the German Bundestag, tweeted, according to he USA Today.
What is CureVac's stand?
CureVac's majority shareholder Dietmar Hopp endorsed the company's position that it won't be able to produce the vaccine exclusively for the US. "It goes without saying that it cannot be that a German company develops the vaccine and that it is used exclusively in the USA," Hopp said.
China flays US over CureVac saga
China ripped into the US move saying such an action showed the US was abdicating its responsibility during a pandemic. It added that it was the wrong time for the US to chase its "America First" ideology. "If Washington initiated a competition in vaccine research and development at this point in an attempt to exclusively serve the US, it would create a calamity on the crisis. How could the US pursue hegemony if the world falls apart?" Global Times wrote on Tuesday.
Where is vaccine research heading?
Even as vaccine trials started in Seattle, health experts said it may take at least 18 months before a vaccine is available for the public. Four people were given the shots that contain a harmless genetic code copied from the coronavirus. The jabs won't cause coronavirus disease. The volunteers will be given two shots each 28 days apart, at the Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle, Washington.