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German Company Wins Inaugural EU Prize For Innovative Vaccine Technology

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German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH has won the European Union's first ever innovation inducement prize for progress towards a novel technology to bring life-saving vaccines to people across the planet in safe and affordable ways.

The European Commission offered the prize, worth EUR2 million, to encourage inventors to overcome one of the biggest barriers to using vaccines in developing countries: the need to keep them stable at any ambient temperature.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: "CureVac's success opens up the possibility of a real European breakthrough in the delivery of vaccines to areas where they are needed most. This technology could save lives - exactly the type of innovation an EU inducement prize should support."

CureVac's RNActive vaccine technology is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that stimulate the immune system. It has the potential to allow the production of vaccines that are protected against both elevated temperature and inadvertent freezing. It would be possible to rapidly produce these vaccines against almost any infectious disease, and deliver these to the most remote areas of the world. CureVac is currently running a number of clinical trials with these vaccines.

The prize jury highlighted the potential of this technology to achieve large global health benefits, given that it may be applied to many diseases and a number of vaccines, might allow the formulating of a combination of vaccines, and could allow the production of many vaccine units in a single facility.

Two other proposals, "Surechill" (The Sure Chill Company Ltd, United Kingdom) and "Freshwest" (Freshpoint Quality Assurance Ltd., Israel and West Pharmaceutical Services Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG, Germany) were congratulated by the jury for their applications and encouraged to continue developing their technologies.

The European Commission said in a statement on Monday that it is the first time it has offered a so-called inducement prize to stimulate research and innovation in the European Union. Building on the first success, inducement prizes in other areas are planned in 2015 under Horizon 2020, the EU's 2014-20 research and innovation program, the Commission added.

Most Europeans are protected from infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and measles thanks to simple vaccinations. But many people in tropical and developing countries are deprived of the benefit from these great achievements of medicine. Vaccines are often rendered ineffective by temperature variations in these regions during transport and storage, long before they can be administered, because for most vaccines, the doses must be kept at a constant and cool temperature. The World Health Organization estimates that half of all supplied vaccine doses are wasted mostly due to an inadequate "cold chain" to protect them before use.

The European Commission offered the 2 million euros vaccine prize for innovations to any legal entities in the EU or in a country associated with the EU's 7th Research Framework Program. No particular approach was prescribed and competitors were invited to convince the jury that their solution could respond best to the competition criteria, including alternative ways of formulating, preserving or transporting vaccines.

The "CureVac mRNA" proposal was selected from a total of 12 proposals by an independent jury composed of nine leading experts in vaccine research and development.

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