CureVac spins a major setback on their mRNA Covid vaccine into an advantage in the market wars to come
After struggling — and largely failing — to make a case for their disappointing Covid-19 vaccine, CureVac is throwing in the towel and taking a shot at coming up with something viable for the global market when countries shift from pandemic to endemic vaccination campaigns.
Tuesday morning the German mRNA player — accompanied by a representative of GlaxoSmithKline, which is allied on the work — ripped the bandage off a festering wound and retreated from an mRNA vaccine that fell short of the 50% protection mark, dropping their application for authorization in Europe and axing a contract to deliver more than 400 million doses of the jab.
At the time CureVac execs revealed the data, they insisted that the vaccine offered enough protection to make it a valuable addition in a world still reeling from an uncontrolled virus. While vaccination levels have been rising in affluent countries, there’s still a massive demand for doses around the globe.
That’s not a viable position anymore, though, CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas conceded in an investor call Tuesday morning. According to Haas, “the complexity of the data we have” shifted any likely decision on the part of European regulators back into 2022.
By that time, he adds, the demand for vaccines will be shifting from first-gen vaccines to second-gen solutions. And that’s where they want to focus their attention.
Shares of CureVac $CVAC slid more than 5% after the news hit.
“While we acknowledge that we cannot be part of the first wave of vaccines any more,” noted the CEO, they can make a big difference for the second generation response, when peak demand is followed by the ongoing requirements of controlling a virus that most experts believe will never be fully extinguished.
That’s about as positive a spin as CureVac could muster at this point. Two mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have proven relatively safe and highly effective — at least in the short term — for combating the virus. Other jabs, from J&J and AstraZeneca, have suffered from safety fears, but still offer a shot at protection for large swathes of the world’s population.
All of them have performed significantly better than CureVac’s vaccine, which Haas earlier claimed suffered from the variants now spreading around the globe.
The setback at CureVac, once considered a major player in the mRNA arena, also revives questions about the technology it uses. As Endpoints News’ Jason Mast has reported, CureVac used unmodified RNA in its vaccine in search of a major impact. BioNTech and Moderna both used modified RNA. And while the jury is still out on that point, CureVac was operating from a wobbly tech stance that has drawn considerable attention.
In addition, both BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna are working on their own second-gen programs, while developing more global manufacturing capacity for better distribution. That gives them a large advantage in a rivalry that will force the laggard CureVac to do something really remarkable with a new vaccine, or face being forced to stay on the sideline.
This is also just the latest in a long string of vaccine failures. Sanofi and Merck, for example, were both were forced to acknowledge their failures, with Sanofi pushing development out until 2022 and Merck shifting its attention to the antiviral molnupiravir. That provided BioNTech and Moderna with a remarkable advantage, which they clearly intend to capitalize on.