GSK, CureVac partner to develop mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 variants

GlaxoSmithKline entered into a new collaboration with CureVac to develop a multi-valent mRNA candidate vaccine to address multiple emerging variants of COVID-19, the companies announced Wednesday. "We believe that next-generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against COVID-19," remarked GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley.

The deal builds on an existing partnership signed between the companies last July to develop up to five mRNA-based vaccines and monoclonal antibodies targeting infectious disease pathogens. As part of that agreement, GlaxoSmithKline paid £130 million ($177 million) for a stake of nearly 10% in CureVac.

Vaccine targeted for 2022

Under the new collaboration, GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac will contribute resources and expertise to research, develop and manufacture a number of mRNA vaccine candidates, including multi-valent and monovalent approaches. The companies said the development programme will begin immediately, with the target of introducing the vaccine in 2022. According to the drugmakers, the next-generation vaccines "may either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters in the event that COVID-19 immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time."

GlaxoSmithKline will make an upfront payment of €75 million ($102 million) to CureVac, which is also eligible to receive a further milestone payment of €75 million. The companies noted that GlaxoSmithKline will be the marketing authorisation holder for the next-generation vaccine, except in Switzerland, and will have exclusive rights in all countries with the exception of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

GSK to support manufacturing of CVnCoV

GlaxoSmithKline will also support the manufacture of up to 100 million doses of CureVac's first-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate CVnCoV this year. That candidate is currently being investigated in a Phase IIb/III study, which began in December with an initial readout expected in March or April. CureVac aims to produce up to 300 million doses of CVnCoV this year and recently signed an agreement with Bayer to support development of the vaccine.

It previously signed a deal to deliver up to 405 million doses to the EU, but has said it would no longer pursue authorisation of CVnCoV in the US, citing market saturation. Shore Capital analyst Adam Barker suggested GlaxoSmithKline was focused on "smart allocation of resources," adding the UK drugmaker is likely "also carefully watching their own vaccine manufacturing so they don't cause any supply issues…by manufacturing large amounts of COVID-19 vaccines."

Recent setbacks

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline is contributing its pandemic adjuvant in other ongoing COVID-19 vaccine efforts with Sanofi and Medicago, although development of the Sanofi-partnered candidate was delayed recently as the companies re-work their formulation to improve immune response in older adults. A similar collaboration with Clover Biopharmaceuticals ended this week when the Chinese company opted to use another adjuvant for its vaccine. Walmsley indicated that GlaxoSmithKline is also in talks with other companies to assist with manufacturing of vaccines.

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