GSK and CureVac sign £132m deal to develop multi-variant Covid vaccine

Companies hope to have next generation of vaccines against emerging variants by next year

GlaxoSmithKline and Germany’s CureVac have reached a €150m (£132m) agreement to develop a next generation of Covid-19 vaccines targeting new emerging variants in the pandemic.

The two companies said they planned to work jointly to develop a shot next year that could address “multiple emerging variants in one vaccine”.

GSK, the UK’s second biggest pharmaceutical firm and the world’s biggest vaccine maker, will also support the manufacture of up to 100m doses of CureVac’s first-generation Covid-19 vaccine candidate, CVnCoV, this year.

CureVac is already working with Germany’s Bayer to speed up development and production of up to 300m doses of CVnCov this year. The vaccine, which unlike other mRNA shots can be kept at fridge temperature, is being tested on thousands of volunteers in late-stage trials, and initial results are expected in March or April.

The new GSK/CureVac project will also develop mRNA vaccines, this time designed to address multiple variants of the virus. The mRNA process injects genetic material into the body that contains the instructions to make the spike protein of the coronavirus. In response to these proteins, the body’s immune system is activated, offering protection.

The companies said the increase in emerging variants that are more resistant to the current vaccines being administered, such as the variant first identified in South Africa, meant scientists needed to “accelerate efforts” to develop new vaccines.

Cases

“The race is on for a variety of different technologies to get as many people protected around the world as possible,” said GSK’s chief executive, Emma Walmsley.

The aim is for the next generation of new vaccines to be used to either protect people who have not been vaccinated or to serve as a booster “in the event that Covid-19 immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time”.

Adam Barker, healthcare analyst at Shore Capital, said: “They’re trying to develop ‘universal vaccines’, ie vaccines targeting multiple respiratory viruses/coronaviruses. That would be a big contribution to the world, but it’s a big ask. The world has tried for many years to get universal flu vaccines, but they’re technically hard to develop. So this is a high-risk, high-reward strategy.”

It is an attempt by GSK to get back in the game after major setbacks to a Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with its French partner Sanofi. The partners said last month that their shot would be delayed until the end of this year after it failed to produce a strong enough immunity response in older people. GSK is supplying an adjuvant, a booster added to a vaccine to create stronger and longer-lasting immunity.

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GSK, which acquired a near-10% stake in CureVac last year, will have the exclusive rights to develop, manufacture and commercialise the new vaccine in all countries except Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The company will make an initial upfront payment of €75m and a further payment of €75m “conditional on the achievement of specific milestones”.

“With the help of GSK’s proven vaccine expertise, we are equipping ourselves to tackle future health challenges with novel vaccines,” said Franz-Werner Haas, the chief executive at CureVac.

The CureVac partnership was announced as GSK revealed a 1% drop in turnover in the three months to December and predicted a bigger than expected drop in 2021 profits. GSK shares fell 5% on the news. GSK, which preparing to split off its over-the-counter business next year, has benefited from strong demand for its painkillers during the pandemic, but its vaccines business has been hit as fewer people get jabs for shingles or other conditions.

Contributors

Mark Sweney and Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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