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UPDATE 2-Bayer and Rentschler to help produce CureVac's COVID-19 shot

* Bayer to produce 160 mln doses of CureVac vaccine in 2022

* Rentschler to make more than 100 mln doses a year

* CureVac vaccine is in late-stage clinical trials (Recasts, adds CureVac co-operation with Rentschler)

BERLIN, Feb 1 (Reuters) - CureVac has signed up pharmaceuticals giant Bayer and contract drugmaker Rentschler to help to produce its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, joining the global push to boost vaccine supplies.

German biotech company CureVac, which began late-stage testing of the vaccine in December and expects to announce interim results this quarter, said it aims to produce up to 300 million doses in 2021 and between 600 million and 1 billion doses in 2022.

Bayer, making the first foray into vaccine manufacturing in its 160-year history, expects to produce 160 million doses of the CureVac shot in 2022 at its Wuppertal site in western Germany, head of pharma Stefan Oelrich told a news conference.

Though the volume target was for next year, Bayer hopes to be able to launch production in 2021, Oerlich said.

“For us, the biggest bottleneck in building the production line is to be able to have the production gear installed in time,” he told Reuters.

The German group had agreed in January to partner Nasdaq-listed CureVac to help to develop its COVID-19 shot, though Oelrich said Bayer is not currently looking at taking a stake in the business backed by investors Dietmar Hopp, the Gates Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline and the German government.

Bayer is the latest big drugmaker to join the push to remedy a shortfall of COVID-19 vaccines after Novartis and Sanofi both said last week that they would help to produce Pfizer’s shot.

Separately, CureVac said it had teamed up with contract drugmaker Rentschler to ramp up production.

Manufacturing processes are being tested at Rentschler’s site in Laupheim in south-west Germany, which is expected to produce more than 100 million doses a year, the two companies said.

European governments have faced criticism over supply and production bottlenecks as vaccine makers AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna have all announced cuts to deliveries just when they were expected to ramp up production.

Germany is Europe’s largest economy, but many Germans have looked on enviously at the faster pace of COVID-19 vaccination programmes in Britain, Israel and the United States.

Keen to show it is taking action, the federal government is due to meet regional leaders, vaccine manufacturers and European representatives later on Monday to discuss how to boost output.

The German government expects to receive a total of 18.3 million vaccine doses in the first quarter from the three Western drugmakers that have had their vaccines approved by the European Union, according to a government document seen by Reuters on Monday. (Reporting by Caroline Copley in Berlin and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman)

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