After the setback of its own COVID-19 vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline has signed a $180 million deal to help German biotech company CureVac produce 100 million doses of its mRNA vaccine, which is currently in development. The deal also lays the groundwork for the two to prepare a next-generation vaccine that would simultaneously protect against several affected coronavirus variants.
The partnership is the latest example of a pharmaceutical giant teaming up with a colleague — in some cases a rival — to tackle the global shortage of much-needed COVID-19 vaccines.
On January 27, Sanofi – one of the world’s leading vaccine manufacturers – announced it would use its manufacturing capabilities to produce the vaccine developed by rivals Pfizer and BioNTech, which has already been approved for use in the US and EU. Sanofi will begin manufacturing more than 125 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine later this year from its factory in Frankfurt, Germany.
“We have made the decision to support BioNTech and Pfizer in the production of their COVID-19 vaccine to help meet global needs as we have the technology and facilities to do so,” said Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson in a statement.
On January 29, Swiss drugmaker Novartis itself announced that it would also lend its manufacturing capabilities to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The company will begin production of the vaccine later this year from its factory in Stein, Switzerland. “As a company reinventing medicine with advanced therapy platforms, we are committed to leveraging our manufacturing capabilities to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies around the world,” said Steffen Lang, Novartis’ chief of technical operations. , in a statement. “We expect this to be the first of several such agreements.”
Under the agreement announced today, GSK will borrow its manufacturing capacity to produce 100 million doses of the CureVac vaccine by 2021. The vaccine, CVnCoV, is an mRNA vaccine similar to that of Pfizer/BioNTech which is currently completing a Phase IIb/III clinical trial.
Previously, GSK had planned to spend this time making its own vaccine, which it is developing together with Sanofi. The two behemoths teamed up to develop a recombinant protein-based, adjuvanted vaccine; Sanofi brought the recombinant technology to the table and GSK worked on the adjuvant, which is generally a compound that enhances the effect of a drug or vaccine.
But the pair announced last December that the vaccine failed to elicit a sufficient immune response in older adults enrolled in a phase I/II trial. The disappointing result pushed GSK and Sanofi’s plans to bring the vaccine to market in early 2021 back to later in the year – if it is approved by regulators.
Now GSK is focused on helping CureVac get its first-generation mRNA vaccine out the door this year — and looking to the future of COVID-19 vaccines. With the emergence of multiple affected variants, GSK and CureVac hope to have second-generation mRNA-based vaccines by 2022, which will provide broader protection than current vaccines. The mRNA vaccine platforms are relatively easy to adapt, and Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have already said they are looking into modifying their mRNA vaccines to better protect them against variants.
“We believe next-generation vaccines will be crucial in the ongoing fight against COVID-19,” GSK CEO Emma Walmsley said in a statement. “This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together we will combine our scientific expertise in mRNA and vaccine development to advance and accelerate the development of novel COVID-19 vaccine candidates.”