The USA is holding back raw materials that are urgently needed for vaccine production, criticizes Ingmar Hoerr. He considers the demand to release patents to be “purely populist”.

Ingmar Hoerr on a picture from February in the Tübingen Castle Laboratory, which is part of the university's museum.

Mr. Hoerr, you have chosen strong words in the debate on patent protection for vaccines: There is a “bustle” when someone is the Biontech patents, Curevac or use Moderna without knowing the exact assembly instructions. You even warn of a health risk in a post on LinkedIn. What do you mean by that exactly?

With patents, at best, you have a rough recipe with which you can somehow try to cook something. That is what I mean by “patting”. To do this, you have to understand the company’s patent strategy: Since knowledge is disclosed with every patent, every company takes care to keep certain things secret and not to patent them. That then remains internal knowledge. I therefore consider the demand to release patents to be purely populist.

“Recoil” means that a new vaccine would be created. That would need approval.

Just. It is a mystery to me how that could go in the near future. As everywhere, the necessary clinical studies would take a lot of time.

Does the demands mean something else anyway: not that the patent protection should fall, but that the entire production knowledge should be released?

Yes, probably. But you can’t force a company to simply disclose all of the knowledge that has been painstakingly acquired over decades. That would have fatal consequences for all of science and medicine: Who should invest in researching new drugs and therapies in the future when all the knowledge has to be given away anyway? A completely different problem is that the USA is currently holding back raw materials that we urgently need for vaccine production, which, with reference to the national emergency, are not allowed to be exported.

Are you saying that the fact that the Curevac vaccine is not yet on the market has to do with the lack of supplies from the United States?

No. The vaccines for the ongoing studies – the prerequisites for approval – have already been produced. But producing hundreds of millions more doses of vaccine is a big challenge.

What is this about?

Among other things, there is a lack of chemicals that are needed to even produce the RNA. Many raw materials come from the USA.

Can the problem be resolved before the Curevac vaccine is approved?

I hope so. The federal government is evidently involved, including the European Commission, as far as I have heard. I hope that this can be resolved politically.

The intention to help the whole world was a guideline of Curevac, also in the interests of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is involved in Curevac. Isn’t that a contradiction if the knowledge is not passed on?

On the one hand, Curevac passes on the knowledge – but not indiscriminately, but specifically to qualified cooperation partners. On the other hand, Curevac is developing a vaccine that requires an extremely low dose. This also keeps the production costs and ultimately the price for the individual cans low. This also benefits people in poor countries. The problem is availability. How are you supposed to vaccinate the world this year when supply chains break because national interests are being pursued? That is my main criticism. You can’t hold back raw materials to benefit your own nation and the rest of the world will go away empty-handed.