Vaccine production giant GlaxoSmithKline announced Wednesday that it would partner with German biotech CureVac to help manufacture its messenger RNA vaccine — and jointly develop a separate vaccine to target new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The next-generation vaccine may be a multivalent, meaning it would protect against several strains of the virus. The companies hope to be able to introduce an updated vaccine in 2022, pending approval from regulatory agencies.
“We believe that next-generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against Covid-19,” Emma Walmsley, GSK’s CEO, 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 new Covid-19 vaccine candidates.”
This year, GSK will make up to 100 million doses of the vaccine currently in development by CureVac, based in Tübingen, Germany.
The deal, worth more than $180 million, is the latest in a string of moves in which major vaccine producers have joined forces with competitors to help them make Covid-19 vaccines.
In recent days Novartis, which sold its vaccine business in 2014, announced it would use “fill and finishing” capacity in Switzerland to help Pfizer get additional doses of its successful vaccine to market. And Sanofi, which has suffered a setback with the vaccine it is making in partnership with GSK, has announced it will use some of its production capacity to make the Pfizer vaccine.
In the Sanofi-GSK partnership, the former is making the vaccine while the latter is providing proprietary adjuvants it has developed. Adjuvants are compounds that boost the power of the vaccine, sometimes allowing less vaccine to be used per person.
CureVac, which last month enlisted pharma giant Bayer to help it make vaccine doses, is currently conducting a Phase 2b/3 trial of its mRNA vaccine. This is the same type of vaccine made by Pfizer and Moderna, which use bits of genetic code to entice cells to make the protein on the exterior of the SARS-2 virus, known as the spike protein. That, in turn, provokes the immune system to develop antibodies and other immunity weapons with which to combat the virus.
CureVac plans to enroll 35,000 people aged 18 and older in the trial, which is being conducted in Europe and Latin America. It is testing a two-dose vaccine. The company says it expects to have interim data from the trial within the first quarter of this year.
CureVac’s candidate vaccine can be stored for three months at 35 to 46 Fahrenheit, which is refrigerator temperature. That is a major advantage over both the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines, which both have more complex cold-chain requirements.
The recent emergence of variants in a number of parts of the world has raised concern about how long the first-generation Covid vaccines will be effective. A variant called B.1.351, first spotted in South Africa, in particular appears to lessen the protection conferred by a number of the vaccines in development.
GSK said next-generation Covid vaccines may either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters in the event that immunity induced by first-generation vaccines is eroded by the evolution of the virus.
Under the terms of the agreement, GSK will be the marketing authorization holder for the next-generation vaccine, except in Switzerland, and will have exclusive rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize the next-generation vaccine in all countries except Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
GSK will make an upfront payment of $90 million and a further payment of $90 million, contingent on meeting specific milestones.