- A Chinese biotech has enlisted GlaxoSmithKline to aid its development of a protein-based vaccine for the newly emergent coronavirus, announcing an agreement Monday to test the British drugmaker's adjuvant technology in combination with its experimental vaccine candidate.
- The Chengdu-based biotech, called Clover Biopharmaceuticals, began designing a vaccine last month after Chinese researchers published the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to strengthen the induced immune response, potentially allowing more doses to be produced from the same amount of viral antigen.
- While a major global supplier of vaccines, GlaxoSmithKline isn't working on its own candidates against the new coronavirus. Rather, the pharma has made available its adjuvant technology, both to Clover and through a partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Publication in early January of the genetic make-up to SARS-CoV-2 catalyzed research efforts across the globe, in academic as well as biotech and pharmaceutical company laboratories.
Nearly 20 groups are now developing coronavirus vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson and, more recently, Sanofi. Another nine organizations are conducting initial tests on therapeutics, according to a Feb. 7 count by BioCentury.
Solving the virus' DNA also revealed the likely method by which SARS-CoV-2 enters human cells, giving researchers a potential target for their development work.
Similar to the SARS virus, the new coronavirus features a "spike" protein on its surface, through which it locks onto a host cell receptor called ACE2. Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health recently published the structure of SARS-CoV-2's spike, showing the virus binds more strongly to ACE2 than does SARS — potentially contributing to its more rapid human-to-human transmission.
Clover designed its vaccine to resemble the coronavirus' spike, aiming to induce an immune response that could protect people against infection by SARS-CoV-2.
The company's work remains preclinical and early; human testing has not yet been done to study whether the vaccine is safe and effective.
Promisingly, though, Clover said earlier this month that it used its candidate to detect antibodies specific to the viral spike protein in the serum of multiple recovered patients who were previously infected with SARS-CoV-2. Reactivity, Clover said, suggests its candidate resembles the virus' protein enough to be immunogenic.
GlaxoSmithKline will provide Clover with its AS03 adjuvant system, which is used in the pharma's pandemic influenza vaccines and was also shared with the University of Queensland for coronavirus vaccine research.
The pharma has opted to collaborate on others' development efforts rather than produce a vaccine candidate of its own. Large pharmaceutical companies are critical in vaccine R&D due to their global scale and manufacturing capabilities.
"We believe we can make a difference by entering collaborations with partners that have promising technologies that are likely to benefit from our adjuvant systems at this stage," a company spokesperson wrote in a statement to BioPharma Dive.
Since being identified in December in Wuhan, China, SARS-CoV-2 has spread to 28 other countries and infected nearly 80,000 people globally. While the number of new infections in China has fallen in recent days, outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran have raised concerns of more global spread.
In addition to the coronavirus vaccine, Clover is also developing several cancer drugs, as well as fusion protein-based medicines. Its most advanced candidate, however, is a biosimilar of Amgen's inflammatory disease drug Enbrel. Last November, the company raised $43 million in a Series B financing, brining its total capital raised to over $100 million.