73-year-old Winfried Stöcker is an investor with significant resources and, according to him, driven by noble intentions, which he intends to share with as many people as possible. In 2016, it bought Lübeck airport, in order to preserve the economic life of the Land of Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany. He is also an entrepreneur who has “succeeded”. After brilliant medical studies, he entered the University Institute of Immunology in Lübeck at the end of the 1970s, where he headed the diagnostic laboratory for autoimmune diseases. In 1987, however, he abandoned academic research to found his own company: Euroimmun, which in the space of 30 years had become one of the major companies in medical technology and laboratory diagnostics. Stöcker sold it in 2017 to the American group PerkinElmer for 1.2 billion euros, while retaining a laboratory in Germany, affiliated with the parent company, which allows it to carry out experiments independently. In April 2020, he announced in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he has undertaken to vaccinate himself against Covid-19; having carried out four injections since March, he is waiting to be able to check the formation of antibodies during the following weeks.
Which product did Winfried Stöcker inject?
One of the activities of Euroimmun is the development of methods for diagnosing infectious diseases, which implies that it has manufactured reagents and marketed tests to detect the various infectious diseases that have emerged in the world. over the past decades (Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, West Nile fever, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, Chikungunya, MERS respiratory syndrome, Zika virus, SARS, Ebola, etc.), in collaboration with major German research institutions, such as the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.
In 2002, the company of which Stöcker was then president therefore made tests to check for the presence of antibodies against the SARS-CoV coronavirus, which caused the epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), to which the SARS- CoV-2 is related.
Likewise, in 2020 Euroimmun produced PCR tests, determining the presence of SARS-CoV-2, and serological ELISA tests, intended to detect the presence of antibodies to the new coronavirus. To do this, Euroimmun researchers created and recombinantly manufactured an antigen from the S1 subunit of the virus’s Spike protein, which is used to bind to receptors in cells in the human body.
In turn, Stöcker developed a recombinant protein based on this antigen, because it “seemed obvious that immunization with this protein would have a protective effect against infection“, he wrote on his blog. He was afterwards”inoculated intramuscularly several times, together with aluminum as adjuvant“; he was then able to test the presence of specific antibodies and their ability to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in a culture of viral cells. At the beginning of May 2020, he declared to be”now immune“against the coronavirus.
An inactivated vaccine
The vaccine thus developed is an inactivated vaccine because it does not contain a live infectious agent.
This type of vaccine may contain part of the infectious agent (as in the vaccine against hepatitis B or tetanus), or all of the infectious agent, but made inactive (as in the vaccine against pertussis). For his part, Stöcker used a tiny part of the coronavirus, since it is a subunit of one of its proteins; this tiny part is not infectious, but it is enough to trigger the immune response.
According to Stöcker, this is a type of vaccination “banal“, which does “part of the medical directory“.
This is why he plans from the outset to replicate this experience on a much larger scale, believing that in this way, in six months, “three quarters of the German or American population could be immunized“.
However, Stöcker forgot a preliminary step: he never requested any authorization from the health authorities. By vaccinating himself and then his family members, he acted on his own and without any control. He defends himself by declaring in his blog that he wanted “win time“by saving yourself from”lose to seek official approval“. But when he contacted the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) at the end of 2020, which regulates vaccines and drugs, he received a summons from the Schleswig-Holstein Criminal Police Office. The PEI, from from whom he wished to seek permission to reproduce his experiment, by applying it to a larger number of people (volunteers) and by studying possible side effects, indeed filed a complaint against him for violation of German law on drugs.
For the Institute, there is suspicion of “criminal activity“, insofar as a clinical study would have been carried out with an experimental drug without prior authorization, which constitutes a criminal offense.
The crisis situation as an alibi
For Stöcker, however, necessity rules. He who is hardly concerned, even in normal times, with regulations when a “much higher“is at stake, considers that only speed matters in a crisis situation:”Necessity justifies unconventional means – in the case of this pandemic, we cannot waste two years waiting to remove the last doubts about possible side effects, as is the case with other vaccines, we must act quickly“, he writes. To the bureaucracy, he blames his”heaviness“; to the authorities, their”paralyzing interventionism“.
His spontaneous approach is above all altruistic, he continues: he has not filed any patent on his vaccine and has even disclosed the principle in the press, so that it is accessible as quickly as possible to as many people as possible.
Winfried Stöcker’s lawyer Wolfgang Kubicki, who is also the vice-president of the liberal FDP party, assures his defense by denying the clinical trial. He speaks of “individual therapeutic trials“, which implies that a manufacturing authorization is not necessary for the antigen on which the vaccine is based. The infringement of the legislation on medicinal products is also denied, insofar as the doctor administered the drug to himself. substance to himself, as well as to patients who have requested it and who have received the necessary information beforehand.
Can this type of vaccination be effective?
If the man persists, it is mainly because he is convinced of the effectiveness of his method. Through his experience, Stöcker indeed meant “indicate a simple and harmless way to deal with the pandemic quickly and effectively“, he writes in his blog. He has also informed some scientists, including Christian Drosten, head of the department of Virology at the Charité hospital in Berlin and Hendrick Streeck, director of the Institute of Virology of the Bonn University Hospital. The first, interested, agreed to conduct a “diagnostic study“and not a”vaccine efficacy test“, he specifies in Spiegel, by analyzing the antigen neutralization response. In Berlin, as in Bonn, the results indicate that the immunization is effective. Hendrik Streeck writes: “The IgG / IgA responses are quite high, and we see a surprisingly strong reduction in the plaque dosage. This places your neutralization values in the top third of the immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 that we have measured so far.“. However, this does not mean that virologists support Stöcker’s approach. Drosten thus claims to have carried out the tests.”in a spirit of collegiality“without accompanying this experiment, adding that similar concepts are currently being tested clinically.
For his part, the entrepreneur continues to defy the authorities: since December 2020, he has injected several doses of antigen to more than sixty volunteers.