A Chinese biotech has taken up vaccine maker GSK’s offer to share its vaccine-boosting platform as it works to develop a product that can stop infection from the novel coronavirus, the companies announced Monday.
The company, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, started working on its vaccine last month, as the outbreak of the virus in China grew. Under the partnership, GSK will provide Clover with its proprietary adjuvants — compounds that enhance the effectiveness of vaccines.
“The use of an adjuvant is of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protect more people,” Thomas Breuer, the chief medical officer of GSK Vaccines, said in a statement.
GSK is, as of now, not developing its own vaccine. But the company said earlier this month that it would offer the adjuvant platform to others, in collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Clover is the second program to take advantage of the adjuvants; a CEPI-supported project at the University of Queensland is also trying to develop a vaccine with the adjuvants.
The coronavirus has caused more than 78,000 cases of Covid-19, as the infection is known, and more than 2,400 deaths so far, the vast majority in China.
Getting a new vaccine to market requires a large pharma company to get on board; only experienced vaccine makers have the manufacturing capacities needed. But some companies have grown less willing to jump into developing vaccine candidates for each new outbreak after they raced to respond in past emergencies only to wind up empty handed, without a marketed product.
The major vaccine makers have not been as eager as companies working on therapeutics to pivot to the coronavirus, but a number have come around. Last week, Sanofi Pasteur announced it was partnering with a U.S. health agency to make a vaccine using the company’s recombinant DNA platform. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine division, Janssen, is also at work developing a vaccine.
Smaller biotechs were quick to initiate work on a coronavirus vaccine as the number of cases in China exploded in January, but should their prototypes show promise, they would need a larger partner to manufacture the needed doses for late-stage clinical trials.
Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and a former Merck scientist, told STAT last week that it is important to have more than one company pursuing a vaccine, given that some could fail in the lengthy development process.
“You don’t ever know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work and it’s not appropriate to put all of your hopes on one single vaccine,” Feinberg said.