It’s a pretty extraordinary story that started off with a CEO exiting a biotech and has now become about the U.S. president allegedly wanting to lure that biotech over to the U.S. to build a vaccine for the coronavirus—but just for Americans.
Maybe it was something he said after all: After meeting President Donald Trump in early March, CureVac’s CEO Daniel Menichella abruptly left, leaving its old chief back in charge and a lot of unanswered questions.
No reason was given, but the circumstances were strange, given the German mRNA biotech is working on a vaccine against COVID-19, Menichella had taken the top spot only a few years back and has been doing a pretty good job since.
Meeting the U.S. president at a roundtable of top biopharma leaders was the zenith of his career, but, shortly after, he was out of the company, being replaced by the very man he replaced, founder Ingmar Hoerr. There was no word from Menichella.
Now, more details have emerged, and it’s a crazy story: Over the weekend, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag said Trump “had offered funds” to entice CureVac to move its COVID-19 R&D work to the U.S., which is just starting out but hopeful of a quick turnaround, and the German government was now “making counter-offers to tempt it to stay.”
Reuters then reported that German government sources told the news wire the U.S. administration was indeed looking into “how it could gain access to a potential vaccine” from the biotech.
The Welt am Sonntag story quoted an anonymous German government source as saying Trump was trying to essentially buy the work from the scientists for a vaccine, “but only for the United States.”
U.S. officials have strongly denied that this is the case, with CureVac releasing a statement over the weekend saying it “confirmed today that internal efforts are focused on the development of a coronavirus vaccine with the goal to reach, help and to protect people and patients worldwide.
“As a consequence, the company is in contact with especially CEPI and many other organizations and authorities worldwide, however abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology.”
Was this why Menichella left? We don’t know, but there will be more to this story, as a German health committee is set to talk about CureVac’s situation today.