Battle against SARS-CoV-2 at the heart of Germany

Blog Post Date: Friday 10 July 2020

The deputy leader of the parliamentary FDP in the German Bundestag, Michael Theurer, paid a visit to IDT Biologika on 1 July. In talks with CEO Dr. Jürgen Betzing and the Head of Research and Development, Dr. Andreas Neubert, he learned about the work carried out at the family-run company. One particular and highly topical focus was upon the search for a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the fight against the global pandemic IDT is turning to national cooperation, international interaction and nearly 100 years of expertise in vaccine research and production.

“The health and economic benefits of a German vaccine would be enormous,” stressed Michael Theurer during the course of his visit in Dessau-Tornau. The visit of the Bundestag Member, whose area of work includes the committees for the economy and health, to Saxony-Anhalt was no coincidence. As FDP regional chairman for the state of Baden-Württemberg, he is very familiar with the commitment of the Klocke Holding, which is based in Baden and has owned the company that is now IDT Biologika GmbH since 1993. As the son of a family of chemists, he was also practically raised amongst vaccines, the 53-year-old quipped.

However, the specific reason was the development of a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has triggered a global health crisis that has already extended for over half a year. IDT Biologika is working intensively in close collaboration with the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) and partners LMU Munich, Marburg University and the UKE Hamburg to develop a so-called vector vaccine. This involves genetic information from a surface component of the coronavirus being incorporated into a harmless carrier virus, which does not trigger illness but stimulates the immune system to form antibodies. “We are able to build upon a system that has already been proven clinically for over 20 years. We know that the vaccine has proved effective in animal testing and that we are on the right path. However, we do not yet know if it is effective in humans and provides the desired immunity,” summarizes Dr. Andreas Neubert. According to the Head of Research and Development at IDT Biologika, in vaccine research there is normally a ten-year period from the beginning of research until the vaccine is ready to market. The pandemic and the international cooperation called for and enabled a considerable shortening of this time, although this can by no means come at the expense of the safety of the drug. “If we are able to begin phase I of the clinical study in the fall and the other two phases are passed without complication, we expect to be able to commence an accelerated approval process at the end of 2021,” says Dr. Neubert. However, he warns against the expectation that there will then be a vaccine that delivers life-long immunity with just one injection. It is still not known how long a vaccine will provide immunity, or how many booster vaccinations will be required.

Despite – or because of – these uncertainties, it is essential that production capacity for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is created at this stage, the three agreed. Because regardless of whether the development of the DZIF with IDT, the drug of another manufacturer or a combination of different products provides the decisive breakthrough – the ultimate goal is to produce the required doses of the vaccine, which could number in the hundreds of millions. The experience of recent months has shown that globalization is more of a disadvantage in this. “Here, at the heart of Germany, we have unique expertise when it comes to offering vaccine production from research and development to the filled and packaged end product,” stated CEO Dr. Jürgen Betzing. As a contract manufacturer for many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, IDT has the necessary know-how and a rich trove of experience. However, as a medium-sized company it is also necessary to fulfil the orders of the customers, with the consequence that new capacity is required. “Ideally we would have a kind of European manufacturing center, not just to tackle corona, but also to face future pandemics,” says Dr. Betzing. “We need to establish a European vaccine reserve. The federal government needs to add its weight to this. I will work to ensure that this happens,” added Michael Theurer.

The family-run company has made considerable financial investments to meet the challenges of the current time and satisfy its own desire to serve society. Development and testing alone will cost around 100 million euros, whilst at least as much again is to be invested in expanding production options. If the efforts to attract funding are successful, around 80 percent of these costs will be met. However, no commitments have yet been made. “Germany used to be the world’s chemist. But if we do not act now, we also fall behind with regard to biotechnology. With regard to both economic and health policy,” said Dr. Betzing, in an appeal to the decision makers at federal level.

An appeal that met with an open ear as far as Michael Theurer is concerned. He promised to take the concerns and impressions of IDT back to the parliamentary party and draw attention to this outstanding level of commitment from a medium-sized, family-run enterprise. A commitment that is naturally also based on economic interests, but above all the desire of the Klocke family and all employees of IDT to make a key contribution to countering a global threat, the effects of which can as yet not be estimated.