When the federal government joined the Tübingen biotech company Curevac in mid-June with more than 343 million euros, the excitement was great. The start-up – majority owned by SAP co-founder and multibillionaire Dietmar Hopp – is working on the development of a vaccine against the lung disease Covid-19. US President Donald Trump also allegedly tried to secure access to the company. Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) justified the state participation with the fact that Germany had to become independent in the supply of a corona vaccine, with the Curevac participation one wanted to accelerate the development.
It all sounded as if the Federal Government’s move was following a major industrial policy plan by the Minister of Economic Affairs.
But in fact it was obviously not the federal government that gave the impetus to the investment, but the company itself. This emerges from the response of the Federal Ministry of Economics (BMWi) to a small request from the FDP. “Curevac AG has successfully applied for an investment by the federal government,” said State Secretary Claudia Dörr-Voß’s reply. The initiative was not taken by government officials. Rumors that Trump was interested in Curevac hadn’t played a role in getting started.
“If industrial policy considerations and requirements had actually been decisive, the idea for the takeover in the BMWi should have arisen,” says FDP politician Reinhard Houben, who made the request. “This shows that Mr. Altmaier’s argument is fooled, in fact he was obviously trying to show the citizens that everything is being done to combat the corona pandemic.” However, it is questionable whether the state entry will actually accelerate the development of a vaccine.
The entry of the federal government, which holds its shares through the state development bank KfW, may have accelerated Curevac’s stock exchange plans. After the Altmaier coup, the pharmaceutical multi-company Glaxo-Smith-Kline, the Qatar Investment Authority and the Qatar Investment Authority, as well as other investors, had put three-digit million euro amounts into the company. Last Friday, Curevac then registered on the American technology exchange Nasdaq. An appointment has not yet been made; in the course of a private placement, Curevac’s main owner Hopp wants to invest another 100 million in the company.
“The federal government acts like a bait”
Houben sees the federal government’s entry as a clear distortion of competition, and the subsequent investments by private donors underscore this. “The state reduces the risk for other investors,” says the FDP man. “The federal government as an anchor investor acts like bait.” The Federal Government, on the other hand, turned competition concerns of the monopoly commission into the wind.
In fact, competitors like the Mainz-based company Biontech have not received state aid similar to Curevac – and therefore have to fear that they will fall behind.
In the response of the Ministry of Economic Affairs to the FDP’s request, it only says that the examination by the Federal Government “has shown no evidence that KfW’s participation in Curevac could pose a risk to free competition”.
It remains to be seen whether the federal government will retain its stake in the company even after Curevac goes public. The question of whether and when KfW is separating from the Curevac shares is “currently not the subject of a decision”.