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Anjum Shabbir
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17th March 2020
Consumer, Health & Environment Covid-19

Commission-funded research to combat the COVID-19 pandemic

The Commission has declared that there will be a common European response to the outbreak of COVID-19, with 8 European Commissioners tasked with coordination of the response.

Today, as part of that coordinated response, the European Commission has offered to provide financing in the amount of EUR 80 million to the innovative vaccines company CureVac. Recently, that company was the subject of a mini-media frenzy, with claims that US President Donald Trump had offered it a handsome sum to develop a COVID-19 vaccine – which CureVac has debunked (and in the interim, CureVac CEO Daniel Menichella, who was invited to the White House to discuss vaccine development with the US President and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, together with other companies working on vaccines, became the ex-CEO five days ago).

This would be granted in the form of an EU guarantee of a currently assessed EIB loan of an identical amount, in the framework of the InnovFin Infectious Disease Finance Facility under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for research and innovation (which has a budget of EUR 80 billion for the period 2014 to 2020).

CureVac has already started its COVID-19 vaccine development program and estimates to launch clinical testing by June 2020.

This research funding comes in the context of a number of other measures taken by the Commission:

On 30 January 2020, the European Commission mobilised a budget of EUR 10 million from the special fund for emergency research of the Horizon 2020 Programme. It submitted a call for a tender named ‘Advancing knowledge for the clinical and public health response to the 2019-nCoV epidemic’, which was closed on 12 February 2020. A total of 91 proposals were received in that two-week period.

On 3 March 2020, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry, launched a fast-track call for research proposals to develop treatments and diagnostics in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Up to €45 million of the funding was stated to be coming, once again, from the Horizon 2020 Programme, and more expected to come from private industry.

On 6 March 2020 the Commission announced that it had secured an additional EUR 37.5 million for more urgently needed research on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, and for treatment and diagnostics, scaling up the budget for tenders to EUR 47.5 million, allowing it to select 17 projects working on vaccine development, virus treatment, and diagnostics.

In the broader scheme of the Commission’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, in addition to funding research, it has stated measures it will take to soften the blow, including encouraging Member States to use EU State aid rules (read an Op-Ed by Juan Jorgé Piernas López on that), proposing flexible use of measures under the European Fiscal Framework, and applying adequate control mechanisms to ensure security of supply of the items that are most needed, such as through procurement procedures (EU Law Live will publish a piece by Piotr Bogdanowicz on that tomorrow), the temporary closing of borders, and a measure to allow Member States to require export authorisations for essential personal protective equipment. It also called for the redirecting of EUR 1 billion to the European Investment Fund to keep liquidity for smaller businesses afloat, and to provide credit holidays to debtors.

Read more about the meeting held between the Commission President, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, and CureVac’s management here.

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