mRNA latecomer CureVac recruits Bayer to speed COVID-19 vaccine to market

Compared with Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership, which already have their COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use, CureVac seems a little late to the mRNA race. But now, the biotech has signed a Big Pharma teammate to help accelerate development, boost manufacturing and prep for a possible launch.

CureVac partnered up with German compatriot Bayer on its COVID-19 vaccine, CVnCOV, which just entered phase 3 testing three weeks ago. No financial details were provided.

The two companies aim to leverage Bayer's expertise and operations to supply “hundreds of millions” doses of the mRNA shot once it’s approved. Along the way, Bayer will help with clinical development, manufacturing, regulatory affairs and commercialization.

“We are very happy to join forces with Bayer, whose expertise and infrastructure will help us make our vaccine candidate CVnCoV even more rapidly available to as many people as possible,” CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said in a statement Thursday.

Under the deal, CureVac will take the lead in the EU and a few other markets, while Bayer holds options to be the rights owner in most ex-EU territories.

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The collaboration resembles that between BioNTech and Pfizer centered on Comirnaty, or BNT162b2, in which a Big Pharma helps a young biotech with more complicated issues beyond early-stage R&D. Neither CureVac nor BioNTech had a commercial product before the pandemic. But Comirnaty has won emergency authorizations in the EU and the U.S. backed by phase 3 data showing 95% efficacy at preventing COVID-19 disease.

That kind of showing sets a high bar for CureVac to match or top, and CureVac’s a little behind with its candidate’s timeline. The company kicked off late-stage testing of CVnCoV in mid-December, with the goal to enroll 36,500 volunteers mainly from Europe and Latin America.

The number of doses CureVac and Bayer plan to churn out is also dwarfed by the 1.3 billion Pfizer and BioNTech have planned for 2021. Moderna just raised its global production goal for its mRNA vaccine, mRNA-1273, to 1 billion doses in 2021.

RELATED: CureVac, armed with COVID-19 vaccine deal, plots 'pandemic-scale' Euro manufacturing expansion

Back in mid-November, CureVac laid out a plan to increase COVID-19 vaccine capacity to 300 million doses in 2021 and up to 600 million doses in 2022. At that time, the German biotech said it intends to add a few “experienced partners” to achieve the supply goal.

The CureVac shot does hold some advantages over its mRNA rivals. The company has said that CVnCoV can remain stable at standard refrigeration of 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Farenheit) for at least three months. By contrast, existing data only support Comirnaty storage at refrigerated conditions for up to five days. Moderna’s version is good for up to 30 days around that temperature level.