The German biopharma firm CureVac has announced a tie-up with the country’s biggest pharmaceutical beast, Bayer, for the development and supply of CureVac’s candidate COVID-19 vaccine.
The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. Bayer’s stock jumped more than 2% on the news Thursday morning.
The collaboration and services agreement should aid the supply of “several hundred million” vaccine doses, the companies said. CureVac said in November that it intends to produce up to 300 million doses this year, and up to 600 million doses in 2022.
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This is all a speculative plan at the moment, given that CureVac’s CVnCoV candidate vaccine—based on similar messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—is still in its large-scale testing phase, the results of which will indicate how effective it is. Following that, regulatory approval would be needed before distribution could begin.
Bayer told Fortune on Thursday that the first results should be available this quarter, with distribution hopefully commencing in Q2.
“Building on the positive data we have seen so far with CVnCoV, we now also have another strong partner on our side to get the vaccine to the people who need it following the receipt of the requisite regulatory approvals,” CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said in a Thursday statement.
“We are highly committed to making our capabilities and networks available to help end this pandemic,” said Stefan Oelrich, head of Bayer’s pharma division. He referred to CureVac as “a leader in mRNA technology.”
CureVac, a previously little-known outfit, grabbed headlines last March when it became the subject of a tug-of-war between President Donald Trump and the German government. Trump was reported to have offered $1 billion to ensure CureVac’s vaccine became exclusively available to the U.S. A political firestorm followed in Germany and the European Commission swiftly responded with an $99 million line of credit for the company.
Although CureVac denied the report of Trump’s offer, CEO Daniel Menichella stepped down days later. CureVac went on to list on the Nasdaq in August.
Bayer is significantly larger than its new partner, with around 104,000 employees to CureVac’s 500-plus. With CureVac developing the product itself, Bayer will help with supply chain issue, regulatory affairs, clinical operations and other elements.
Under the terms of their deal, CureVac would have the right to apply for the vaccine’s marketing license within the EU and other European countries including the U.K., Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Bayer is retaining options to front the marketing license process in some countries outside Europe, though there is not yet agreement as to which countries might be included, the company told Fortune.
CureVac has already taken other partners on board as it prepares for production—Germany’s Wacker Chemie, to manufacture the active substance in the vaccine, and France’s Fareva to “fill and finish” the vials.
The push comes as many European countries, including Germany, debate whether the vaccine rollout is going quickly enough.
There has been a fair amount of criticism for the European Commission, which has managed collective procurement on behalf of EU members, and it is certainly the case that the European approval process is moving more slowly than those in the U.S. and U.K. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Commission only green-lit the second vaccine, Moderna’s, on Wednesday.
However, the problem is also largely down to production limits.
BioNTech and Pfizer, whose vaccine was the first to gain EU approval, are putting the finishing touches on a new German factory—in the Hessian university town of Marburg—that should be ready to go in February. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday that the new facility would “massively” increase vaccine availability in Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also told Russian President Vladimir Putin this week that she is “open to the idea” of manufacturing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in European manufacturing facilities—though only if it gains EMA approval.
Sputnik V is not one of the vaccines for which the Commission has already signed (controversially secretive) procurement agreements. CureVac is on the list—the Commission has already secured up to 405 million doses of its potential vaccine.
The Commission is also trying to double its existing order for 300 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses. It has an order in for 160 million Moderna doses, and—pending regulatory approval—has also secured up to 400 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses, up to 300 million Sanofi-GSK doses (though those won’t materialize until the end of 2021, if ever), up to 400 million Johnson & Johnson doses, and possibly up to 200 million Novavax doses.
More health care and Big Pharma coverage from Fortune:
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- Timeline: From the first coronavirus cases to the first vaccinations
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In support of political contributions
Most Americans don’t want CEOs involved in politics. A poll conducted last week by Golin and Ipsos found only 41% favored CEOs weighing in on disputed elections, and only 43% wanted them speaking out on impeachment. On the other hand, 74% say CEOs should call for unity and a peaceful transfer of power, and 57% believe it was appropriate for CEOs to speak out after the January 6 insurgency at the Capitol. That pretty well tracks with the way most CEOs and business groups have behaved since election day. They kept their powder dry until all legitimate avenues for disputing the election were exhausted, then came out strongly endorsing the election results and attacking efforts to undermine them. Relatively few have backed impeachment. (You can see the poll results here.)
But how about political contributions? That’s the question raised last week, as a host of companies—Marriott, AT&T, American Express, Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Dow and Amazon among them—suspended campaign contributions to members of Congress who challenged the election results. Another large group—Microsoft, Boeing, Blackrock, Coca-Cola, JP Morgan, Ford, GM, UPS, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup—temporarily halted all political contributions to members of both parties. (Quartz has a more comprehensive list of what companies did here.)
Some business leaders are even contemplating permanently shutting their political action committees and exiting the money game altogether. But absent a broader overhaul of campaign finance—which is unlikely anytime soon—I think that’s a mistake. Most big companies remain balanced players in the money game, dividing their dollars roughly equally between members of each party. Walmart, for instance, has kept its contributions at exactly 50-50. Their strategies have less to do with trying to influence outcomes, and more to do with assuring they have access to whoever wins.
The more important question for 2021 is how big business uses that access. There are a host of issues where business has the potential to help broker positive outcomes for the U.S. economy and society: economic stimulus, infrastructure, worker training, climate change. On each of these, business leaders occupy the center, and can help bring the parties together to solve urgent problems.
But on tax and regulatory issues, in particular, corporations will be playing defense. And they’ll be tempted to use what influence they can muster to seek tax breaks and regulatory exemptions that aren’t in the broader public interest. That’s where the commitment to stakeholder capitalism will be tested. The nation desperately needs business involved in government. But business, now more than ever, needs to use its influence to focus on solving long-term challenges.
Why Big Tech regulation is good for private equity, according to one CEO
Increased scrutiny of Big Tech’s power may have some shareholders sweating it. But not so for private investors.
With a new Biden administration and recent threats to crack down on some of the biggest tech behemoths (from Facebook to Amazon), there seems to be support for more regulation. And according to alternative investment manager Hamilton Lane’s CEO, Mario Giannini, that might be good news for the private equity industry.
“Reducing the dominance of large technology companies…is probably not great for some portions of the industry, but good for private equity,” Giannini tells Fortune. In Congress, which now maintains a slim Democratic majority, “I think everyone is interested in saying, ‘Amazon is too powerful, Google [is too powerful],’ pick your name,” he says, arguing there’s bipartisan support for more regulation.
As to what lawmakers do about it, “I’m not sure,” says Giannini, but “to the extent that they do anything to diminish the power of those companies, that’s good for private equity because it creates opportunity for smaller companies.”
To be sure, government scrutiny of large tech companies is a tale as old as time, but lately regulators appear to be turning up the heat on the biggest names: Facebook was recently hit with an antitrust lawsuit alleging it has squashed competition, while players like Amazon and Apple, big winners of the pandemic era, have found themselves the subject of government ire over antitrust concerns. Google, meanwhile, is in hot water once more for its search and search advertising practices. And companies like Facebook and Amazon could be facing their own headwinds in Europe, too.
According to Giannini, whose firm has $73 billion in assets under management and advises on $474 billion in additional assets, the dominance of those FAANG names has been top of mind for private equity firms when scouting for deals.
“Right now, when any private equity [firm] does a deal, …if it’s not their first question, it’s one of their top three questions: ‘Is Amazon going to enter this space, yes or no?’ And that has a huge impact—’Is Google in this space?’” he says.
It isn’t just an issue in tech. Companies like Amazon are moving into health care, for instance, by launching online pharmacies. “If all of the sudden the government [would] say, ‘I’m not going to allow Amazon to encroach in certain areas,’ then I think for private equity, oddly enough, that becomes a net positive because you do then have an opportunity with other companies,” says Giannini.
Though some on the Street argue the threat of sweeping legislative changes to hamper Big Tech’s reach is still minor, the new (albeit slim) Democratic majority in Congress poses “a clear negative for Big Tech as…we would expect much more scrutiny and sharper teeth around FAANG names,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a recent note.
For private investors, says Giannini, that just “creates different opportunity sets.”
More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:
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