An Overview of the CureVac COVID-19 Vaccine

CureVac, a small German company that first pioneered mRNA technology for medical use two decades ago, may offer another mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccine to fight coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

CureVac is working toward finalizing late-phase clinical trials of CVnCoV, its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. While details on the effectiveness of the vaccine in humans are not complete yet, it has been shown to be highly effective in protecting against the virus and its emerging variants in animals. Early human trials showed that immune responses were created by the vaccine and the CureVac vaccine caused few side effects. The company aims to have a vaccine ready for distribution later in 2021.

a man receiving a vaccine

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How It Works

CureVac's vaccine candidate, CVnCoV, is an mRNA vaccine. Like Pfizer's and Moderna's mRNA vaccine, CVnCoV teaches our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside the body. For COVID-19 vaccines, that's a piece of the spike protein that is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Unlike traditional vaccines that use killed or weakened particles of a virus to trigger immunity, mRNA vaccines don't contain any pieces of the virus itself. Instead, they carry a message to immune cells with information about how to create proteins that trigger an immune response in the body. The immune response, which produces antibodies (proteins released by the immune system to fight infections), is what protects us if the real virus enters our body.

mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19, so they cannot give someone COVID-19.

Phase 1 trials for the CureVac vaccine began in June 2020 at four locations in Germany and Belgium, and enrolled 250 adults. By September, phase 2 trials began in more than 600 adults in Peru and Panama. Different doses were investigated in the phase 2 groups, and the study groups were split into two specific subgroups—one of adults ages 60 and older and one with adults ages 18 to 60.

Late-phase 2b/3 trials began in December 2020 and focused on two 12 microgram (µg) doses of the CVnCoV vaccine in adults 18 and older. Doses were given roughly 28 days apart to more than 35,000 adults across research sites in Europe and Latin America.

One thing that sets CureVac's vaccine apart from other mRNA vaccines is its ability to be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures of about 41 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as room-temperature storage for 24 hours. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have to be kept in a deep freezer.

How Effective Is It?

In animal trials using mice, CureVac's vaccine was able to offer "complete" protection to original and emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to study reports. Early human trials of the vaccine indicated that the vaccine triggered no serious reactions in humans, with only mild local reactions similar to those caused by other mRNA vaccines developed to fight COVID-19.

While clinical trials in humans are still underway, CureVac revealed that it is anticipating good results and is already partnering with a number of pharmaceutical companies and applying for regulatory approval in the European Union. Results of late-phase human trials are expected in the second quarter of 2021.

When Will It Be Available?

CureVac's vaccine likely won't be available until later in 2021, after the company completes late-stage clinical trials and obtains regulatory approval. CureVac filed for a number of early approvals with European regulators in February 2021, with the goal of producing millions of doses by the end of 2021.

While CureVac is still working toward finalizing data on the effectiveness of the vaccine and regulatory approval, it has already inked deals with a number of companies to help manufacture the vaccine once it's approved for use and distribution. These companies include Bayer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, and even Tesla.

There is no official information on the cost of the vaccine from CureVac yet, but Reuters reported that the CureVac vaccine may cost around $15 per dose, compared with the $18 per dose of other mRNA vaccines.

Who Can Get the CureVac Vaccine?

There is little information about specific distribution plans for the CureVac vaccine. Studies are underway in adults, but there have been no reports yet about clinical trials in children and teens.

Side Effects and Adverse Events

No serious adverse events were reported in early trials of the CureVac vaccine. The company has reported only mild side effects similar to those experienced with other mRNA vaccines like headache, fever, chills, and injection site pain. Side effects resolved within two days after vaccination in the trial groups, according to CureVac.

Funding and Development

A number of governments, companies, and investors have contributed to the development of CureVac's mRNA technology and its COVID-19 vaccine, including:

  • Bayer
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • CRISPR Therapeutics
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Yale University
  • Genmab
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Acuitas Therapeutics
  • Arcturus Therapeutics
  • Celonic
  • Novartis
  • Rentschler Biopharma
  • Fareva
  • WACKER
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