German Pharma Shifts Gear

In the global race to deal with Covid-19, Germany’s extensive network of pharmaceutical companies are involved in major international collaborations and are benefiting from generous government support. German pharma is driving digitalization forward.

October, 2020

Germany is at the forefront of attempts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and a number of German companies are searching for ways to treat SARS-CoV-2. At the same time, the pandemic is changing the face of the pharmaceutical sector in Germany.

One important milestone came in mid-July, when Mainz-based BioNTech and its international partner Pfizer received fast-track testing designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for two of its mRNA-based vaccine candidates. The company has also been granted EUR 100 million from the European Investment Bank.

BioNTech and U.S. conglomerate Pfizer, who joined forces this year to fight SARS-CoV-2, have entered fast-tracked, ­advanced testing of their vaccine candidate after initial positive results.

© BioNTech

Likewise, the German government has put up EUR 300 million to acquire a 23 percent share of Tübingen biotech company CureVac – the other major German firm working on a vaccine. CureVac is also collaborating with the German engineering subsidiary of carmaker Tesla on RNA “microfactories” that could eventually manufacture a vaccine.

But corona research is expensive, the vast majority of vaccine attempts fail, and treatments for SARS-CoV-2 will be needed for as long as the disease cannot be prevented. So the German government has also allocated additional hundreds of millions to support everything from accelerated testing to a computer network for researchers.

Facts & Figures


Share of drugs exported by members of the German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (VFA) in 2018

Source: VFA

Coronavirus has shifted the focus of the entire sector. In 2019, the consultancy firm EY found that the biggest pharma companies worldwide were concentrating on ­cancer, with 2,586 drugs in clinical development compared with only 605 anti-infection medications. That’s now changing.

“We can expect that, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, topics like infection and antibiotic resistance will come to the fore,” says Siegfried Bialojan, head of EY’s Life Science Center in Germany.

Covid-19’s other major impact has been on sourcing strategies – many firms are reassessing their dependence on suppliers in India or China – and in the digital realm. The pharma industry has been forced online, digitalizing everyday tasks and working on healthcare concepts that go “beyond pills.”

Photos: CureVac; BioNTech

Japanese company Takeda, which has two sites in Germany, is working on a number of plasma-derived Covid-19 therapies. It sees its activities there as crucial to its future in Europe. “Germany – and especially Berlin – is a leading ecosystem for the healthcare industry,” Giles Platford, head of Takeda’s EU and Canada unit, told local media. “In the meantime, Berlin also has a leading digital sector.” He went on to say that the company holds regular meetings with local e-health start-ups – just another example of international pharmaceutical teamwork in Germany.

Pharmaceutical Number Crunching

Sources: VFA; EY