Germany said on Monday that rights to coronavirus vaccine research were not for sale, after reports President Donald Trump offered to buy exclusive US access to a potential vaccine developed by a German biotech firm.
“German researchers play a leading role in drug and vaccine development, and we cannot allow others to seek exclusive results,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Mr Maas’s comment, in an interview with the German media group Funke, came as scientists race to develop a vaccine against the deadly Covid-19 virus, which has killed about 6,500 people, sent millions into lockdown and devastated global markets.
The German newspaper Die Welt, citing sources close to the government, reported that Mr Trump had offered "a billion dollars" to secure research into a vaccine by the German biotech firm CureVac "only for the United States".
“Germany is not for sale,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster ARD on Sunday, reacting to the report.
At a news conference, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was asked to confirm the attempt to court the German company.
“I can only say that I have heard several times today from government officials that this is the case, and we will be discussing it in the crisis committee tomorrow,” he said.
CureVac said in a statement on Sunday that it “abstains from commenting on speculations and rejects allegations about offers for acquisition of the company or its technology”.
The report prompted fury in Berlin.
“International co-operation is important now, not national self-interest,” said Erwin Rueddel, a conservative MP on the German parliament’s health committee.
A US official told AFP on Sunday the report was “wildly overplayed”.
“The US government has spoken with many – more than 25 – companies that claim they can help with a vaccine. Most of these companies already received seed funding from US investors.”
The official also denied that the US was seeking to keep any potential vaccine for itself.
“We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help. And any solution found would be shared with the world.”
CureVac, founded in 2000, is based in the southwest German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and has other sites in Frankfurt and Boston.
The firm markets itself as specialising in “development of treatments against cancer, antibody-based therapies, treatment of rare illnesses and prophylactic vaccines”.
The lab is currently working in tandem with the Paul Ehrlich Institute, linked to the German health ministry.
Last week, the company announced that chief executive Daniel Menichella had been replaced by Ingmar Hoerr, only weeks after Mr Menichella met Mr Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and representatives of pharma companies in Washington.
“We are very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months,” CureVac quoted Mr Menichella as saying shortly after the visit.
On Sunday, CureVac investors said they would not sell the vaccine to a single state.
“If we are successful in developing an effective vaccine, then it should help and protect people across the world,” Dietmar Hopp, head of principal investor dievini Hopp Biotech Holding, said in a statement.
Mr Altmaier welcomed the statement, saying it was a “fantastic decision”.
The Economy Minister also pointed out that the government had the power to scrutinise foreign takeovers, saying: “Where important infrastructure and national and European interests are concerned, we will take action if we have to.”