First plant-based Covid vaccine moves a step closer

·2-min read
Medicago says it and GlaxoSmithKline's plant-based Covid vaccine offered strong protection in tests against variants - Medicago via AP
Medicago says it and GlaxoSmithKline's plant-based Covid vaccine offered strong protection in tests against variants - Medicago via AP

GlaxoSmithKline is seeking approval for the world's first plant-based vaccine as it scrambles to catch up with rivals in the race to treat the new variants of coronavirus.

The drugmaker has joined forces with Canadian biotech company Medicago to produce a vaccine that will be grown only in plant cells.

GSK has manufactured a component of the vaccine that boosts an adult's immune response to help provide immunity over a longer period. GSK is the world's largest vaccine maker, but it has faced criticism for failing to produce an authorised jab during the coronavirus pandemic.

Medicago has been developing the technology for growing vaccines in plants for 20 years. The company produces protein particles that mimic the structure of a virus to stimulate the body's immune response and provide protection against future infection.

If it succeeds, the drug will be one of the first protein-based vaccines deployed in the fight against coronavirus. The first wave of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA molecules. But a protein vaccine is easier to distribute as it can be stored in a refrigerator instead of being frozen.

GSK and Medicago are seeking regulatory approval for the vaccine after it delivered positive results in tests against coronavirus variants.

The vaccine was 75.6pc effective against all variants in a late-stage trial involving 24,000 adults, although these did not include the omicron version of the virus now spreading rapidly worldwide.

Medicago and GSK have sought approval from the UK's MHRA watchdog, the US Food and Drug Administration, Canadian regulator Health Canada and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The vaccine could be distributed through the Covax access scheme to promote sharing of jas between countries if signed off by the WHO.

Thomas Breuer, GSK's chief global health officer, said the results were encouraging.

He said: "The global Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to show new facets with the current dominance of the delta variant, upcoming omicron, and other variants likely to follow."

Yosuke Kimura, chief scientific officer at Medicago, said: "I am pleased to see our vaccine candidate moving forward and bringing to the world the first plant-based vaccine against Covid-19, diversifying the pool of vaccines available to help improve public health and protect more people."

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