GSK allies with Innovax for COVID-19 vaccine R&D project

GlaxoSmithKline has teamed up with Xiamen Innovax Biotech to evaluate a vaccine against the novel coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement gives Innovax access to a GSK adjuvant to enhance the immune response triggered by its recombinant protein-based vaccine.

GSK teamed up with Innovax last year to develop a human papillomavirus vaccine, tapping into the work of the Chinese biotech to drive its search for a successor to Cervarix. The latest deal moves the partnership into COVID-19 and, in doing so, continues GSK’s effort to support the response to the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus through the provision of its AS03 adjuvant.

While GSK developed its own vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the Big Pharma has opted to play a supporting role in the industry’s response to COVID-19, primarily by providing its AS03 adjuvant to Clover Biopharmaceuticals and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Innovax will apply the adjuvant to a vaccine it is developing with Xiamen University. The vaccine, like others in development, is based on the coronavirus’ spike protein. Innovax is screening a series of truncated spike proteins to gather immunogenicity data to inform the selection of a lead candidate. Adding AS03 to the mix may reduce the level of protein needed to protect patients.

GSK has early evidence to suggest AS03 can deliver those benefits to COVID-19 vaccines, noting that one of its collaborators has reported encouraging preclinical data. The Big Pharma expects partners to publish more data over the next three months, setting them up to plot out clinical strategies. GSK is also “evaluating further collaboration opportunities with several other companies and institutions.”

The vaccine work is advancing in parallel to efforts to develop COVID-19 medicines. In a statement about its activities related to the pandemic, GSK said it is evaluating whether drugs in its portfolio of experimental and approved medicines can play a role in the response to COVID-19, either as a direct antiviral or in the management of secondary complications. 

As previously disclosed, GSK is part of a group of companies that have made libraries of compounds available for screening by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative involving the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The accelerator is screening compounds shared by Big Pharma companies for efficacy against SARS-CoV-2.