EU’s Push for Vaccine Supplies Gets Help From Bayer Agreement
(Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG agreed to produce CureVac NV’s experimental coronavirus vaccine to boost the rollout of a promising shot as European Union governments scramble for additional supplies to spur a plodding campaign.
The move won’t have an immediate effect, though it’s at least some good news for Europe after a week of chaos surrounding its program. The controversy escalated after the European Commission threatened curbs on vaccine exports -- sparking global anger -- in response to news that AstraZeneca Plc would miss delivery targets.
Bayer’s production effort extends its current pact with CureVac on regulatory clearance and global distribution, and will start to deliver at the end of the year. It follows commitments from fellow European pharma giants Sanofi and Novartis AG to put their manufacturing capacities behind scaling up Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 injection.
Large drugmakers bring an ability to boost supply that smaller developers lack, and companies are also under pressure to help as new variants threaten the efficacy of existing shots. Vaccines appear to offer the only way out of the pandemic, which has killed more than 2.2 million people worldwide.
“We will need vaccines beyond the summer,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a press conference Monday. “It’s possible that due to mutations we cannot yet predict today, vaccines will have to be adjusted and changed. The mRNA technology makes it possible to do that relatively quickly.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold crisis talks with pharmaceutical executives, regional German leaders and European Commission officials Monday. The video call in Berlin comes after Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, announced that Astra will deliver 9 million additional vaccine doses to the EU in the first quarter.
The commission is expected to double down on Monday that a vaccination target of 70% of Europeans by summer is achievable, but only if drugmakers deliver on promised commitments, according to an official familiar with the matter.
The Astra debacle highlights how tenuous such commitments are. It triggered a crisis on Jan. 22 when it said that problems at a plant in Belgium meant deliveries of doses this quarter would be significantly curtailed.
The episode devolved into a bruising blame game that pitted the 27-nation EU against the pharmaceutical industry, and triggered fears about a wave of vaccine nationalism that could hinder efforts to fight the pandemic.
Bayer’s Stefan Oelrich, who heads the company’s pharmaceuticals unit, said talks with the German government helped convince it to consider producing a vaccine -- even though it’s never done so before.
“We have the necessary ability” thanks to experience making biotech products, Oelrich said. Bayer expects to be able to produce 160 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine next year by harnessing its factory in Wuppertal, near Duesseldorf.
Bayer shares rose 1.1% in Frankfurt trading.
CureVac’s shot is still being tested in a late-stage trial, but Spahn has said that the shot could gain approval as soon as March. The product is a messenger RNA vaccine similar to the ones from fellow German firm BioNTech -- which partnered with Pfizer -- and Moderna Inc. Those shots were the first approved in Europe and elsewhere, and demonstrated about 95% effectiveness in trials.
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