CanSino adds mRNA to COVID-19 vaccine efforts with Precision NanoSystems deal

CanSino Biologics is already testing a recombinant conronavirus vaccine in China, but it’s jumping on the mRNA vaccine bandwagon through a licensing deal with Precision NanoSystems.

The duo will work on an mRNA liqid nanoparticle vaccine for COVID-19, with Precision NanoSystems designing the vaccine and CanSino picking up preclinical and clinical development, regulatory activities and commercialization. CanSino has the rights to market the vaccine in Asia—with the exception of Japan—while Vancouver-based Precision holds onto the rights for the rest of the world.

In March, Moderna became the first biopharma to start a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, but CanSino wasn’t far behind. That same week, it scored approval from Chinese regulators to start testing its recombinant vaccine.

RELATED: China's CanSino pushes coronavirus vaccine into clinical testing as Moderna kicks off trial

The candidate, dubbed Ad5-nCoV, uses CanSino’s adenovirus-based viral vector vaccine platform. In 2017, the same technology helped the company earn a Chinese nod for its Ebola vaccine, which was the first Ebola shot approved anywhere based on the strain behind the deadly epidemic in West Africa in 2014.

Using mRNA gives CanSino another angle from which to attack the new coronavirus. Instead of delivering antigens through a weakened or inactivated form of a virus, mRNA vaccines give people's bodies the instructions for those antigens. The body then creates antigens that resemble the virus and mounts an immune response against them. There aren’t any approved mRNA vaccines to use as a road map, but they could be easier and quicker to make, in theory.

“Since RNA vaccines are a disruptive technology as they do not require cell culture, utilize synthetic delivery and have a smaller manufacturing footprint, our partnership with PNI to advance a mRNA-LNP vaccine candidate will not only help accelerate the process, but will also potentially revolutionize the vaccine industry,” CanSino co-founder, chairman and CEO Xuefeng Yu, Ph.D., said in a statement.

RELATED: It’s too soon to assume success for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine: analyst

CanSino and Precision NanoSystems are just the latest to work on an mRNA vaccine to combat COVID-19. Moderna Therapeutics’ candidate is the most famous—and most hyped—vaccine to use the technology. CureVac is also developing an mRNA vaccine, as are partners Pfizer and BioNTech and tandem Sanofi and Translate Bio.