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Biotech, UK Govt to Design Covid-19 Variant Vaccines

Vaccine vials

(ulleo, Needpix)

5 Feb. 2021. A biotechnology company and a U.K. government agency agreed to quickly develop and produce vaccines to protect against emerging Covid-19 viral mutations. Financial details of the agreement between CureVac N.V. in Tübingen, Germany and the U.K. Vaccines Task Force, which includes bulk delivery of vaccine doses to the U.K., were not disclosed.

CureVac creates vaccines with a technology based on messenger RNA, the nucleic acids that transcribe an individual’s genetic code in DNA into amino acids that instruct cells in the body to produce proteins. With this technology, the company develops cancer immunotherapies and vaccines for infectious diseases. The platform is based on research by CureVac’s scientific founder Ingmar Hoerr in the 1990s, which assembles the usually unstable messenger RNA molecules into stable therapeutics.

For Covid-19 vaccines, CureVac adapts its technology by packaging messenger RNA in lipid nanoparticles to target a protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 spike. The vaccine enables the body to recognize the spike protein as an invader, and invokes the immune system to produce antibodies and T-cells protecting against infection. As reported by Science & Enterprise in November 2020, an early-stage clinical trial shows the company’s two-dose vaccine code-named CVnCoV is safe and produces an immune response with both antibodies and T-cells. The company has mid- and late-stage trials of CVnCoV underway in Germany and Latin America.

Expedite clearances for clinical trials

The agreement with the UK Vaccines Task Force calls for CureVac and the task force to collaborate on identifying SARS-CoV-2 variation targets, and CureVac to apply its messenger RNA, or mRNA, expertise to develop vaccines protecting against those variations. The UK Vaccines Task Force is expected to expedite clearances for clinical trials in the U.K. of new vaccines against the most threatening variants to qualify for emergency authorizations.

“One of the biggest challenges we continue to face in combating Covid-19 is the emergence of multiple variants, each of which poses a potentially significant threat to public health,” says CureVac’s chief business officer Antony Blanc in a company statement, adding “we believe we have the ability to quickly adapt our mRNA technology to address current variants and prepare for the emergence of new strains.”

Clive Dix, interim chair of the U.K. Vaccines Task Force, notes, “We are constantly tracking the virus so we can identify any significant new variant as quickly as possible. Therefore, as part of this agreement, CureVac and the U.K. government will assess multiple virus variants and are expected to generate multiple vaccine candidates against those selected.”

Add manufacturing capacity

Under the deal, CureVac agrees to transfer its messenger RNA vaccine production technology to other entities to increase manufacturing capacity for new vaccines. In addition, CureVac will deliver 50 million doses of new variant vaccines to the U.K., with some of that production expected to take place in the U.K. That manufacturing capacity is expected to remain in place in case more vaccine doses are needed in the next three years.

CureVac and drug maker GlaxoSmithKline agreed on 3. Feb. to a similar arrangement for research and development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variations. GSK is paying CureVac €75 million ($US 90 million) initially, with CureVac eligible for another €75 million if all terms of the deal are met.

In January, CureVac and drug maker Bayer agreed to jointly produce hundreds of millions of doses of CVnCoV, with Bayer assisting on clinical development, safety monitoring, and distribution worldwide. CureVac says both the GSK and Bayer collaborations would benefit from any advances from the U.K. task force work.

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