EU seeks to prevent U.S. takeovers of coronavirus research firms

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders will on Tuesday discuss how to prevent hostile U.S. takeovers of EU-based research firms at the forefront in developing drugs and vaccines against the coronavirus, officials said.

The talks, to be held in an extraordinary videoconference on the EU response to the virus crisis, come a day after the European Commission pledged financial support to a German firm after it emerged that Washington was trying to persuade it to move its research to the United States.

“Leaders will discuss what can be done against hostile takeovers by U.S. companies in the research field,” a diplomat said, adding that in the 5 pm (1600GMT) videoconference, EU leaders would also consider new funding for the sector in the fight against coronavirus.

The Commission on Monday promised 80 million euros ($88 million) to Germany-based CureVac, a biotech firm which the EU executive said had developed new technology that could slash costs for vaccines and provide a rapid response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

German government sources said on Sunday that the U.S. administration was looking into how it could gain access to the potential vaccine being developed by CureVac.

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CureVac said late on Monday it had not received a takeover offer from the United States.

“This is not just about CureVac. Many other companies are concerned,” an EU official told Reuters, referring to the agenda of the EU leaders’ videoconference.

“There is very intense contact between companies and member states. We are looking at a way forward together,” the official said.

Earlier in March, the Commission committed up to 45 million euros for research into vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus.

“I am proud that we have leading companies like CureVac in the EU. Their home is here,” the head of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said when she announced the EU funding to the firm.

At the videoconference, EU leaders will also discuss measures to limit the spread of the disease across EU’s internal and external borders, and the economic impact of the outbreak in Europe.