German vaccine maker CureVac surges 250% in Nasdaq debut

By: AFP      Published: 11:45 AM, 15 Aug, 2020
German vaccine maker CureVac surges 250% in Nasdaq debut
The Diaz family poses for a portrait after following an online mass in honour of Cecilio Diaz, 81, who died of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus a month ago, in Chorrillos, south of Lima. Five members of the Diaz family died of COVID-19, while the rest has either had the virus or is currently going through the disease.–AFP

Shares of German biotech company CureVac, which is developing a leading coronavirus vaccine candidate, rocketed Friday in its first day of trading in New York after raising more than $200 million in an initial public offering. 

The company, trading on the Nasdaq under the "CVAC" ticket, finished at $55.90, up almost 250 percent from its introductory price of $16 a share.

CureVac is seen as one of the leading contenders in the race to develop to a COVID-19 vaccine and received permission in June to start human trials.

The company, based in Tuebingen in southwest Germany, said on Friday that it raised $213.3 million (180.6 million euros) in its share offering, at the higher end of its price target of $14 to $16 a share.

The company placed 13.3 million shares, giving it a valuation of around $2.8 billion.

CureVac was thrust into the spotlight in March when media reports suggested that the US President Donald Trump's administration was looking to secure exclusive rights to its vaccine that's under development.

The company and US officials dismissed the news as unfounded, but it prompted Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to declare that "Germany is not for sale".

In a move to shield the firm from falling into foreign hands, the German government in June took a 23-percent stake in CureVac for 300 million euros.

At the time, Altmaier said: "We don't know which company will bring the first workable vaccine to market. But we know that CureVac is among those in the lead."

In July, British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline paid around 143 million euros for a 10-percent stake in the company to work together on vaccine development.

CureVac, whose controlling shareholder is the billionaire co-founder of software giant SAP, Dietmar Hopp, develops therapies based on harnessing "messenger RNA" -- molecules related to DNA -- to treat diseases.

It employs more than 400 people in Germany and Boston.

Like its German competitor BioNTtech, CureVac preferred listing on the Nasdaq "where the most analysts and investors in biotech circulate", according to a company source.

Coronavirus ravages Peruvian family

The coronavirus pandemic has been cruel to the Diaz family in Peru, killing five members of the tight-knit clan and leaving another four still hospitalized.

But because Peru's healthcare system collapsed under the strain of the virus, the family has been hit by an additional tragedy: financial ruin.

Like many Peruvians, they had to raid their savings and take out loans from friends in order to cover the expense of mounting medical bills from private health clinics.

"We've been completely destroyed. Now we need to rebuild the family with what we have left," Juan Diaz, a 58-year-old professor, told AFP.

"What's befallen us is like a nightmare, the truth is I wouldn't wish it on anyone," he said, tightly hugging a picture of his parents while lamenting the fact he was unable to attend his mother's funeral due to virus restrictions.

Peru is one of worst hit countries in coronavirus-epicenter Latin America after Brazil and Mexico, with more than 25,000 reported deaths and over half a million cases.

Infections in Peru have been on the rise since a national lockdown was lifted on July 1, prompting the government on Wednesday to reinstate a Sunday curfew, ban social gatherings and enforce mandatory lockdown in more provinces.

Before the devastating pandemic struck, 17 members of the middle-class Diaz family shared a single four-storey brick house in the Chorrillos district of Lima.

But on May 24 that happy life started to unravel with the death of Juan's brother Ernesto, a local tax collector.

"We don't know how the virus got into my house, but the first to fall victim to it was my father," said Ernesto's 32-year-old son, also called Ernesto.

- Rushed to hospital, too late -

Since then Juan has also lost his 80-year-old father Cecilio, his 77-year-old mother Edith Leyva, and siblings Willy, 42, and 53-year-old Maribel.

"We were seven siblings, like the days of the week, but now we've lost three," said Juan, who also fell ill with coronavirus alongside his wife and daughter.

Those still receiving treatment are in Villa Panamericana, a residential area built to house athletes during the 2019 Pan-American Games but that has since been converted into a hospital to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Cecilio, who was diabetic, died on July 11 while he was being rushed to the hospital. Just a week later it was Maribel, then on July 28 Edith and Willy both died.

All five were buried in the same cemetery but health emergency regulations meant few mourners were allowed to attend the funerals.

In the family home there are pictures of the deceased and a sign that reads: "You will always be in our hearts."

In the last few weeks, five members of the family were discharged from the hospital, but four remain in the Villa Panamericana.

- 'Practically bankrupt' -

Even after they have recovered from the virus, the family will be dealing with the financial fallout.

"We're all insured but the insurance hasn't helped," said Juan.

The Diaz family's healthcare is provided by the subsidized social security system, but that has collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic leading to long waiting lists, meaning they were forced to seek treatment in private clinics.

"It's been a horrible tragedy for my family, it's practically left us bankrupt," said Ernesto Diaz.

"We had to break open the piggy banks, get loans and help from friends to get through the illness.

"Now we want to go back to normal, maybe that will never happen, but we've got to keep going because life goes on."

Julissa Navarro Diaz, 32, the daughter of Maribel, left the hospital this week after battling the virus for three weeks.

"It's shocking not just because my mother was taken from us, but also my grandparents, my uncles," said Navarro Diaz. "It's been a slow recovery."

South Korea tightens curbs in capital

South Korea tightened coronavirus measures on Saturday in Seoul and its surrounding areas as the country reported the highest number of new daily infections in more than five months.

The stricter social distancing guidelines include restrictions on gatherings and activities including professional sports, which will be played behind closed doors in the capital area again.

The move came as South Korea reported 166 new cases on Saturday, the highest daily figure since early March, bringing the country's total infections to 15,039 with 305 deaths.

South Korea stands at a "critical juncture" in the battle to control the coronavirus surge, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a government response meeting.

"Our top priority is to contain the spread of the virus in the greater Seoul area."

A majority of the new cases came from the greater Seoul region -- home to half of the country's 51 million people -- raising fears about a major spike with a three-day weekend starting in South Korea from Saturday.

South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks outside mainland China but brought it broadly under control with extensive tracing and testing while never imposing the kind of lockdowns ordered in much of Europe and other parts of the world.