Newly crowned centibillionaire Elon Musk is looking to contribute Tesla’s tech resources to the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, again—despite having been dead wrong about the virus several times over the last five months.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO is in Germany this week. On Tuesday, Musk quietly visited the headquarters of German biotech firm CureVac in Tübingen. According to local reports, the visit was to discuss collaboration between CureVac and Grohmann Automation, a local engineering firm acquired by Tesla in 2017, about building RNA microfactories, a bioprinting technology that could help accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines.
The cooperation between CureVac and Tesla’s Grohmann unit was first made public in July, when Musk tweeted that Tesla was looking into RNA microfactories “as a side project.”
“In principle, I think synthetic RNA (and DNA) has amazing potential. This basically makes the solution to many diseases a software problem,” he tweeted in July.
In fact, Tesla and CureVac had started on the “RNA printer” collaboration before the pandemic. In 2018, the two companies filed a joint international patent application for a bioprinting technology titled “Bioreactor for RNA in vitro Transcription,” aimed to automate the RNA production process.
“Current established manufacturing processes are time consuming, cost intensive, and require a lot of laboratory space and laboratory equipment,” the patent application says. “An acceleration of RNA manufacturing would be highly advantageous and of major importance for public health, especially in the context of pandemic scenarios.”
CureVac is in advanced stages of developing a COVID-19 vaccine based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, the same technology used by Moderna. The company recently received government approval to begin a phase one trial in Germany and Belgium.
In a tweet on Saturday ahead of his Germany trip, Musk said “conversations with Harvard epidemiology confirmed that a high-speed RNA printer has potential be helpful for vaccines and cures in many areas.”
This isn’t Tesla’s first time to participate in pandemic-related efforts. In March, Musk offered to repurpose Tesla factories to make hospital ventilators for severe COVID-19 patients. The electric carmaker delivered 1,000 ventilators in April to about a dozen hospitals in California.
The Tesla CEO hasn’t been shy about sharing his thoughts on the coronavirus on public forums, although many of them turned out to be wrong. In March, for example, Musk predicted that the U.S. would be free of COVID-19 cases by the end of April. He also vehemently opposed shelter-in-place orders and insisted on keeping Tesla’s California plant open when the pandemic was in full swing.