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SAP co-founder holding aces in COVID-19 vaccination

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2020
SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp.
SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp.

SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp is likely to end up playing a critical role in the battle against the coronavirus, as CureVac, a company he owns, is reportedly making progress in developing a vaccine for the deadly virus.

The billionaire businessman served as SAP co-CEO from 1988, the year SAP went public, to 1998, and then as chairman of the supervisory board until 2003.

According to Forbes, in 1996, he transferred most of his SAP shares to a foundation, which supports sports, medicine, education and social programmes, and has distributed more than $700 million over the years.

Now, German media reports CureVac, a company in which Hopp and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are leading investors, is making headway in the development of a remedy for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

CureVac creates vaccines for influenza and malaria.

The deadly COVID-19 virus, which originated in the central city of Wuhan, China, in December, has gripped the world, claiming the lives of 7 178 people, with a current infection rate of 183 805 cases and 79 911 recoveries.

Since the outbreak, many technology luminaries have joined the fight to curb the spread of the deadly virus. This came after several tech giants, including Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, Google and Apple, were impacted, temporarily closing offices, stores and factories in China.

A fortnight ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined in, saying the social media company will give support and “millions more in ad credits” to organisations fighting COVID-19, including the World Health Organisation.

This week, Hopp’s company hit international headlines when German newspaper Welt am Sonntag revealed US president Donald Trump had offered CureVac large sums of money, so that the US gains access to the vaccine as well as making it exclusively for the US.

Despite the interest from the US, Hopp has, however, declared the vaccine not for sale, and German media says he has stressed it is being developed “to help people not just regionally but in solidarity across the world”.

Large-scale business disruption

Meanwhile, SAP has announced it is opening up free access to two of its applications to businesses as the COVID-19 escalates.

According to Alicia Tillman, global chief marketing officer at SAP Africa, all businesses are facing unprecedented challenges as the impact on the global economy continues.

“Business travel is restricted, events are cancelled and supply chains have been weakened. It is not business-as-usual in any sense of the phrase,” she says. “As a purpose-led organisation, SAP is uniquely positioned to leverage its technology to support businesses at a time where supply chain and business travel disruption is a real concern.”

SAP will open access to its SAP Ariba Discovery solution for the next 90 days to enable any buyer to post their immediate sourcing needs, and for any supplier to respond if they can deliver.

The solution will be free to anyone to use for posting and responding to sourcing requests.

Additionally, SAP has announced that between 13 and 31 March, any individual traveller can sign up for TripIt and receive the Pro version for six months.

TripIt forms part of SAP Concur and processes hundreds of thousands of travel itineraries for people around the world, monitoring flights and alerting them to any changes or delays. Existing TripIt users will also get the premium service complimentary for six months.

Turn to tech innovations

Jon Tullett, research manager, IT services for IDC Sub-Saharan Africa, has welcomed the move by SAP, saying: “It’s important that every company goes the extra mile, in whatever way they can. It’s going to mean sacrifices all round.”

Tullett says technology companies can have a positive impact and help businesses survive the effects of COVID-19.

“There are technology innovations that may help in time, particularly in various forms of analytics for medical research, economic analysis, governance, and so on. But more important right now are the steps they can take to protect their immediate ecosystems; helping their teams and their partners reduce facetime, work from home, cut down on in-person support calls and deliveries…that sort of thing. Be aware that if you enforce remote working, electrical supply is going to be a major consideration.”

Furthermore, he says local technology companies are playing their part even though there is room to improve when it comes to assisting during this period.

“Some are. I’m sure others will come around – it’s still very new and many companies are struggling to make sweeping changes in a short time.

“It’s also interesting to look at what the long-term implications will be – a workforce which has benefited from a remote-working regime, even if it was medically enforced, is going to want to keep it afterwards. There will be big long-term effects in corporate environments, supply chains, consumer behaviour – technology and tech companies are going to be front and centre in some of that.”

Concurring, Derrick Chikanga, senior analyst of IT services at Africa Analysis, says: “IT companies can play a leading role in ensuring the minimum impact on the economy of COVID-19 by enabling services that will benefit consumers and minimise their risk exposure to the virus.

“E-commerce companies can play an active role in enabling the fast purchasing of goods and services as movement is becoming increasingly restricted. Online retail in SA is currently estimated to be less than 2%. Hence, IT companies could play an active role in encouraging online purchases and ensuring continued consumption, thereby minimising the negative impact of the virus on the economy.”