Daniel L. Menichella, the head of the Tübingen-based biotech company Curevac, received an invitation from President Donald Trump over the weekend. It was one of those invitations that are difficult to turn down, no matter how far the journey is. The U.S. President Donald Trump had invited him to the White House in Washington on Monday, March 2nd, to discuss with managers from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry about the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, and about strategies for the rapid development of vaccines and therapies against the lung disease Covid-19.
There is a video of the meeting on the Internet. “It is a great challenge,” said Trump. His government is making unprecedented efforts to protect the inhabitants. The president himself used this crisis for the election campaign. It is important to bring production back to the United States, he said: “We want to do certain things at home.” Trump flattered the managers, which was something new, as before his inauguration in 2017, he had berated the pharmaceutical industry because of high drug prices.
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The best names in the pharmaceutical industry were gathered in the White House
Prices are not an issue at the White House, so President Donald Trump invited only the renowned companies in the pharmaceutical industry to be part of the discussions. Emma Walmsley, head of the British pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline, Daniel O’Day, head of the US concern Gilead Sciences, Mikael Dolsten, head of research at the “proud American company Pfizer,” Paul Stoffels, head of research at the U.S. concern Johnson & Johnson.
Menichella is the only representative of a German company. Like everyone else, he thanked the President for the invitation and told him what Curevac can do. “We believe that we can develop a vaccine against Covid-19 very, very quickly,” said Menichella. In the video of the meeting, the businessmen from the industry sound as if they are applying for an attractive job. They seem a bit submissive, and most of them talk fast.
The development of a vaccine is also a trial of strength for the companies. Who can deliver the fastest, the best preparation? Curevac has been looking for a vaccine based on its mRNA technology since January. The “m” stands for messenger and the RNA for ribonucleic acid. The mRNA vaccine provides the body with the blueprint for a protein of the coronavirus. It is built in the body and triggers an immune reaction, the body defends itself and produces antibodies against the attacker.
Curevac manager knows what Trump wants to hear
Daniel L. Menichella has been working for Curevac since the beginning of 2017, and in 2018 he replaced co-founder Ingmar Hoerr as CEO. It is never easy to follow a founder as an employed manager. And Menichella is a business economist, not a natural scientist like Hoerr. So finding the cure for Covid-19 is also a test for him.
Before his appointment as CEO, the American managed the Curevac business in the USA, commuting between Boston and Tübingen. One of his direct competitors is also sitting at the table, like Stéphane Bancel, head of the US company Moderna Therapeutics. She has developed the vaccine mRNA-1273, which will be tested on humans in the next few weeks.
According to Curevac, the company is working with several vaccine candidates. Menichella said that clinical trials with one of them could begin in June. Even if accelerated, it could still take months before approval is granted. It is these schedules that Trump is particularly interested in. Curevac has sufficient production capacities to produce the vaccine itself and does not need partners, said Menichella. The managers know what the president wants to hear.
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First published in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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