GlaxoSmithKline pens COVID-19 vaccine pact with Medicago

Hoping to broaden shots on target, GlaxoSmithKline is continuing its strategy of giving out access to its vaccine platform as it adds Medicago to its growing partners list.

The tie-up will wed Canada-based Medicago’s recombinant coronavirus virus-like particles (CoVLP) with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant system, which has been used in previous epidemics.

CoVLPs mimic the structure of SARS-CoV-02, the virus responsible for COVID-19 disease, allowing them to be recognized by the immune system. Partnering this approach with an adjuvant “can be of particular importance in a pandemic situation as it may boost the immune response and reduce the amount of antigen required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protect more people,” according to GSK.

A phase 1 is planned within the next week or so and comes after preclinical testing (and the caveats that brings) showing combing the two platforms “demonstrated a high level of neutralizing antibodies following a single dose.”

Though not even in human testing yet, the partners have a very ambitious timeline: They aim to finish off development and make the vaccine available “in the first half of 2021.”

The collab could also be boosted by work on a so-called post-pandemic COVID-19 vaccine candidate “should the need arise based on the further development of COVID-19 after the pandemic, and other infectious diseases.”

The companies will use Medicago’s plant-based production platform to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine antigen. This uses the leaves of a plant as bioreactors to produce the S-spike protein which self-assembles into VLPs for use in the CoVLP vaccine candidate.

The idea is that it is highly scalable and can support the production of large amounts of vaccine in a shortened timeline. “Using this technology combined with GSKs proprietary adjuvant system, the companies expect to be able to manufacture approximately 100 million doses by the end of 2021,” the pair said in a statement.

By the end of 2023, a large-scale facility under construction in Quebec City is expected to deliver up to 1 billion doses annually.

Thomas Breuer, M.D., chief medical officer, GSK Vaccines, said: “This agreement paves the way for an innovative vaccine option combining a scalable plant-based antigen technology with an adjuvant which has pandemic dose sparing capability.

“If successful, it will be a meaningful contributor in the fight against COVID-19. We strongly believe that multiple vaccines are needed, including post-pandemic vaccines. This plant-based technology also shows promise beyond COVID-19 and has the potential to help prevent other infectious diseases.”

GSK has a number of deals using its adjuvant platform, including with Sanofi, Clover and academic centers. This differs from the work out of Moderna, CureVac and BioNTech/Pfizer, all of which are in clinical testing and focus on mRNA, a new and as yet unapproved way of making vaccines.

Bruce Clark, Ph.D., president and CEO of Medicago, added: “We are about to begin clinical trials with our CoVLP vaccine candidate harnessing GSKs pandemic adjuvant technology against the virus that causes COVID-19. This collaboration with GSK gives us access to a proven adjuvant which could enhance the effectiveness of our candidate vaccine, and also to a depth of scientific experience to support our development efforts.”

Medicago is a privately held company jointly owned by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma and Philip Morris International. Financials of the deal with GSK were not disclosed.  

The company added, however, that it is “willing to evaluate offers for its shareholding from parties that may be better suited to help Medicago on the next phase of its journey and has initiated preliminary review to determine the optimal shareholding and governance structure for Medicago’s future success.”