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UPDATE 1-Curevac gets $300 million grant to hurry up COVID-19 vaccine

(Releads with research grant)

BERLIN, Sept 4 (Reuters) - German biotech firm Curevac said on Friday it had won nearly $300 million in government funding to speed up work on its prototype COVID-19 vaccine and build capacity to produce it at scale.

The Tuebingen-based startup, valued at $10 billion after floating last month on Nasdaq, is one of a number of firms designing vaccines based on molecules carrying a genetic code called messenger RNA (mRNA).

CEO Franz-Werner Haas said the money “can substantially support our efforts to produce and develop a safe and effective vaccine in high volume as quickly as possible.”

Curevac said it had been awarded 252 million euros ($298 million) to support its vaccine candidate, after applying under a scheme announced in July by Science Minister Anja Karliczek.

It expects to receive the funding in two tranches - a first of up to 103 million euros this year and a second of up to 149 million euros in 2021 - subject to agreed targets.

DATA CARRIER

Curevac’s technology uses mRNA as a data carrier to instruct the human body to produce proteins that can fight against diseases. Uses include prophylactic vaccines, cancer therapies, antibody therapies and rare diseases.

Curevac is likely to be beaten to market by U.S. rival Moderna and Germany’s Biontech, billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp said earlier.

“We can’t win this race,” Hopp told the Handelsblatt business daily. “But we want to win the race to produce the best vaccine and here we have good chances.”

Hopp, one of the founders of software company SAP, said Curevac aimed to produce 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of this year.

Curevac may also expand its cooperation with Grohmann, a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s electric car maker Tesla, in developing so-called RNA printers that would make it possible to decentralise production, Hopp also said.

Musk was in Germany this week and visited Curevac, sparking press speculation that he may invest in the company. Hopp earlier dismissed the reports as “pure fantasy”. ($1 = 0.8469 euros) ($1 = 0.8477 euros) (Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by Jason Neely and Louise Heavens)

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