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Another potential COVID-19 vaccine with Boston ties to enter clinical trials

CureVac, a German firm with about 20 employees here, says it has permission to start testing in people

The headquarters of biotech company CureVac in Tuebingen, Germany.
The headquarters of biotech company CureVac in Tuebingen, Germany.SEBASTIEN SAUGUES/AFP via Getty Images

A third potential COVID-19 vaccine with ties to Massachusetts will soon enter clinical trials.

CureVac, a German company with about 20 employees at its US hub in Boston, said Wednesday it has gotten permission from regulators in Germany and Belgium to begin clinical trials of its experimental vaccine in those two countries.

CureVac’s vaccine candidate uses messenger RNA, genetic material that scientists believe can teach a person’s immune system to defend against the coronavirus. That’s the same approach of Moderna, the Cambridge biotech that in March became the first company with a COVID-19 vaccine candidate to enter clinical trials. Moderna has no products on the market, but investors’ hopes for the publicly traded company’s vaccine has catapulted its market value to more than $23 billion.

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“We are encouraged that we received [the] green light from the regulatory authorities to start the clinical development of our COVID-19 candidate,” said Dr. Franz-Werner Haas, acting chief executive of CureVac, which is based in Tubingen, Germany. “During the last few months our team has put a lot of efforts into the preclinical validation of several vaccine candidates to select an optimal [one].”

A third vaccine candidate developed by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Boston and the health care giant Johnson & Johnson will be tested in humans starting in July. That vaccine uses a common-cold virus to deliver a portion of the coronavirus into cells to stimulate the immune system to fight off an infection.

So far, at least seven vaccine candidates by companies worldwide ― including Moderna’s ― are progressing in clinical trials.

In the first phase of CureVac’s study, the vaccine will be tested in a range of doses on 168 healthy volunteers between the age of 18 and 60. This phase is intended to evaluate the safety of the shot and whether it stimulates the production of antibodies.

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Dr. Mariola Fotin-Mleczek, CureVac’s chief technology officer, said tests of the vaccine on animals indicated it created high levels of neutralizing antibodies. Scientists believe those are important to help people fight off an infection.

CureVac became embroiled in a political controversy in March after a German newspaper reported that the Trump administration was trying to obtain CureVac’s vaccine exclusively for the United States through a large donation. German officials said at the time that the government was entering talks with CureVac to repel such a move, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company, however, denied at the time that the Trump administration had made the approach, and US officials disputed the German newspaper report.

Earlier this week, the German government said it had purchased a stake in the privately held biotech in an attempt to block a foreign takeover. Moving CureVac to the United States, where the firm has a hub at 250 Summer St. in Boston, would have put it out of Germany’s jurisdiction.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.