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Brussels, 10 March 2014
German company wins EU's €2 million inducement prize for innovative vaccine technology
German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH has won the EU's first ever innovation inducement prize. The company received the 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 €2 million prize 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.
This is the first time the Commission has offered a so-called inducement prize to stimulate research and innovation in the European Union. An inducement prize sets an ambitious goal, but it does not say how that goal should be achieved or specifically who should achieve it. The use of prizes as a mechanism to induce innovation has a long history. Things we now take for granted such as transatlantic flights, tinned food and navigation at sea were all encouraged by competitions to win prizes. Building on the first success, more inducement prizes are planned in 2015 under Horizon 2020, the EU's 2014-20 research and innovation programme.
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 cannot 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 vaccine prize for innovations to any legal entities in the EU or in a country associated with the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme. 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 prize competition opened in April 2012 and attracted registrations of interest from 49 competitors from a variety of countries. A total of 12 proposals were received by the submission deadline in early September 2013. They were judged by an independent jury composed of nine leading experts in vaccine research and development, regulation, use, formulation and preservation. Following discussion, the jury recommended to the Commission that the ‘CureVac mRNA’ proposal should win the prize.
Vaccine prize webpage (including competition rules and jury members):
Memo on 'EU vaccine research' (including a list of EU-funded projects)