London/Munich: GlaxoSmithKline Plc and CureVac NV joined forces to create next-generation messenger RNA vaccines to combat emerging variants of the coronavirus that could make the first shots less effective.
The companies aim to have a candidate approved by 2022 as part of a 150 million euro ($180 million) collaboration, according to a statement Wednesday. Glaxo this year also plans to help manufacture as many as 100 million doses of CureVac’s current mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, which is still in late-stage trials and could be approved as soon as March.
Drugmakers are racing to catch up with the virus amid concern that new and potentially more dangerous variants might diminish the effectiveness of some vaccines. In helping CureVac manufacture its current shot, the British pharma giant follows Sanofi, Novartis AG and Bayer AG in throwing its weight behind another company’s Covid vaccines, potentially accelerating the rollout.
The partners aim to use novel mRNA technology to develop products that target multiple variants in one vaccine. The immunizations may be used to protect people who haven’t been inoculated or as booster shots if immunity from other vaccines wanes, they said. The pair will also investigate mRNA vaccines to protect against other respiratory viruses beyond Covid-19.
The approach gives cells instructions to create the spike protein found on the surface of the virus, relying on the body to make its own vaccine. A so-called multivalent shot would aim to build broader protection against multiple variants by instructing different spike proteins to be made.
Glaxo shares rose 0.6% Wednesday in London, with CureVac up as much as 3.8% in Frankfurt.
Glaxo is also developing Covid-19 vaccines with Sanofi, Sichuan Clover Biopharmaceuticals Inc. of China and Canada’s Medicago Inc., using its adjuvant technology to help boost the immune system response to the shots. The vaccine with Sanofi is facing months of delays after a dosing error in a clinical trial last year. That inoculation probably won’t reach the market until the last quarter of this year, assuming it proves effective.
For CureVac’s existing vaccine, Glaxo will help with the part of the process in which the shots are put into vials and packaged, known as fill and finish. The 100 million doses are included in the 300 million CureVac was already planning to produce this year.
Bayer also announced plans earlier this week to produce CureVac’s potential vaccine. The German pharma giant has never made vaccines before, and is in the process of acquiring the equipment needed for a plant in Germany. Bayer’s first doses of CureVac’s shot could be ready by the end of this year. CureVac is planning to manufacture 1 billion doses in 2022 plus the contribution from Bayer.
Although drugmakers have said their vaccines should still work against emerging variants, some are looking at retooling them as researchers warn that shots may need to be updated periodically.
Two other key mRNA Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE, and from Moderna Inc. have been approved for use in multiple countries. Both are investigating how they can tackle the new variants. Moderna’s chief scientific officer told investors last month the company was looking at the possibility of creating a multivalent vaccine.