Covid-19 roundup: CureVac finds big vaccine partner in Bayer; Slaoui will stay on as Biden consultant
Aside from donating chloroquine in the early days of the pandemic, Bayer has largely stayed out of the spotlight as other Big Pharmas deal and invest their way into leading roles in developing Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
But that’s changing today as Bayer puts its weight behind CureVac, a fellow German player, and its mRNA vaccine candidate.
The companies are entering a “collaboration and services agreement,” which will see Bayer take up responsibilities in development, supply and key territory operations — leveraging its expertise in areas like clinical operations, regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance, supply chain and on-the-ground infrastructure in certain countries.
“We are highly committed to making our capabilities and networks available to help end this pandemic,” Stefan Oelrich, president of the pharma division, said in a statement.
CureVac’s vaccine utilizers messenger RNA, a relatively new technology that’s twice over with the first emergency use authorizations in the US. While it falls significantly behind the leaders at BioNTech (partnered with Pfizer) and Moderna (teamed up with the NIH), having just started Phase III in December, execs have touted a smaller required dose and lower storage temperature as attributes that might still give it a chance at having a big impact given the enormous demand. The existing supply is also disproportionately flowing toward affluent countries, leaving plenty of poorer regions waiting.
Both GlaxoSmithKline and the German government have backed that longterm goal, featuring prominently in a massive $640 million round just before CureVac cruised to a $213 million IPO. GSK made it clear it’s banking on the tech platform to deliver multiple mRNA-based vaccines as well as antibodies against other infectious diseases to come.
As with BioNTech and Moderna, Covid-19 would serve as the first big test of its capabilities as it’s never brought a product to market before.
Involving Bayer in the process, CureVac said, should facilitate the supply of “several hundred million doses around the world” once regulators clear the shot. The EU has pre-ordered 405 million doses and the company is still beefing up its manufacturing network.
OWS chief Moncef Slaoui to get new title as Biden consultant
Moncef Slaoui, the former GlaxoSmithKline exec who’s been spearheading the scientific effort to develop vaccines and therapies for Covid-19 as scientific chief of Operation Warp Speed, will serve as a consultant to the incoming Biden administration.
Slaoui has accepted an offer to become a consultant when the transition happens, STAT and Bloomberg reported, citing a call with reporters. POLITICO added that it will be a reduced role that lasts around four to six weeks.
It marks an extension of the time with government for Slaoui, who’s indicated that he planned to step down by early this year once two vaccines and two therapeutics have been authorized. Together with Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer, Slaoui was tasked with putting together and supporting a portfolio of candidates that might help end the pandemic.
A partner at venture firm Medicxi and board member of Moderna prior to his appointment to OWS, Slaoui has come under scrutiny and criticism for his ties to the industry, including his biopharma stock holdings. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren has called for his resignation. But he’s fiercely fought back against the attacks, vowed to resign if politics interferes with science and, more recently, called on the White House to allow his people to make contact with Biden’s transition team.
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