After CEO-switching saga CureVac names full-time chief, CSO

Franz-Werner Haas, interim CEO of CureVac
CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas (CureVac)

Even as it scrambled to pitch in against the COVID-19 pandemic, CureVac found itself embroiled in a game of executive musical chairs, losing two CEOs in as many weeks. Now, as it pushes an mRNA vaccine toward the clinic, it’s named a permanent chief, Franz-Werner Haas, and signed a Novartis alum, Igor Splawski, Ph.D. as its new top scientist.

Haas has led the company as interim CEO and chief operating officer since March, the same month that Daniel Menichella, CureVac’s CEO since 2018, mysteriously departed. Menichella’s replacement was, in fact, the man he replaced two years earlier: Ingmar Hoerr, CureVac’s founding CEO.

Hoerr’s second tour as chief executive didn’t last, though—a week later, the company announced he would take a temporary leave of absence for medical (but not COVID-19-related) reasons. At the time, CureVac said that Haas would take over Hoerr’s role “until his return.” Now, Haas is taking “interim” off his job title.

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He’s joined by Splawski, who arrives at CureVac after running a biologics center for Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. As chief scientific officer, Splawski will lead the company’s mRNA biology research, including work on its closely watched mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

The biotech is much further back than its mRNA rivals Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, who are all working on late-stage efforts, but given that the pandemic will likely need as many vaccines as possible, and with safety/efficacy keenly watched, it will still have a potentially big role in the R&D effort.

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The executive changes come two weeks after CureVac closed a $640 million private round from players like the German federal government, GlaxoSmithKline and Qatar Investment Authority. The haul was larger than all of CureVac’s previously disclosed financings combined and arrived before the company published data on how its COVID-19 vaccine, CVnCoV, works in humans. Belgian and German authorities cleared CureVac to start a phase 1 study of the vaccine in June.