Canadian firm claims to have a viable vaccine candidate for Covid-19

Researchers are set to begin initial human trials on a possible Covid-19 vaccine in July or August. — Reuters pic
Researchers are set to begin initial human trials on a possible Covid-19 vaccine in July or August. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — A Canadian biopharmaceutical company announced that it has made a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, claiming to have developed a vaccine candidate that could begin human trials in the next few months.

Quebec City-based Medicago said in a statement that it has successfully produced a virus-like particle (VLP) of the virus just 20 days after obtaining its gene — making it the first step in developing a vaccine for the deadly virus.

The company has now begun preclinical testing for safety and efficacy of the vaccine before it will be ready for initial human trials.

Medicago said the human testing could begin as soon as July or August upon receiving the greenlight from appropriate health agencies.

The research, which is partially funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, is in collaboration with the Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre headed by Dr Gary Kobinger, who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola.

The company was able to produce the VLP using its plant-based technology, a proprietary potential alternative to conventional egg-based production systems.

Medicago chief executive officer Dr Bruce Clark said the pace of their initial progress in Covid-19 is attributable to the company’s capability in their plant-based platform, which is able to produce vaccine and antibody solutions to counteract this global public health threat.

“The ability to produce a candidate vaccine within 20 days after obtaining the gene is a critical differentiator for our proven technology.

“This technology enables scale-up at unprecedented speed to potentially combat Covid-19,” he added.

Dr Kobinger also said the collaborative efforts established between the research team at Laval University and Medicago have been very successful in developing unique antibodies against infectious diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus.

“The experience gives us confidence for successful identification of therapeutic antibodies against Covid-19 virus.”

Medicago is a leader in plant-based technology, having previously demonstrated its capability to be a first responder in a flu pandemic.

In 2009, the company produced a research-grade vaccine candidate against H1N1 (a subtype of influenza A virus) in just 19 days.

Three years later, the company manufactured 10 million doses of a monovalent influenza vaccine within one month for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the US Defence Department.

In 2015, Medicago also demonstrated that it could rapidly produce an anti-Ebola monoclonal antibody cocktail for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Health and Human Services Department.

Medicago is partially owned by Philip Morris International, which acquired a stake in 2013.

It currently holds approximately 30 per cent of the company’s shares.

PMI’s participation in Medicago is part of the company’s overall efforts to explore further science and technology-based avenues for its future business in line with its ambition to replace cigarettes as soon as possible with science-based smoke-free alternatives.

Medicago’s first product — a seasonal recombinant quadrivalent VLP vaccine for active immunisation against influenza — is currently under review by Health Canada following the completion of a robust safety and efficacy clinical programme involving over 25,000 patients.

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