- Maryland-based Novavax has bought Praha Vaccines for $167 million, an acquisition that gives the company a biologics manufacturing facility in the Czech Republic.
- The move is meant to help Novavax keep pace with larger coronavirus vaccine developers, which are scaling up their manufacturing capabilities as human tests begin. According to the company, Praha’s plant in Bohumil should be able to produce 1 billion yearly doses of antigen for Novavax's experimental vaccine, known as NVX-CoV2373.
- The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is one of at least 10 currently in clinical trials. An Australian study evaluating the safety and immune responses generated by two versions of the vaccine in about 130 healthy people began enrolling patients this week and should yield results in July. Participants will get two injections, 21 days apart.
Vaccine makers are moving at an unprecedented pace to produce protective treatments against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. There are now at least 10 experimental vaccines in human testing, and giant drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are preparing to manufacture billions of doses before knowing if their vaccine candidates will be effective.The Praha acquisition gives Novavax the chance to manufacture its vaccine on a similar scale.
Novavax, which doesn’t yet have any marketed products, is getting help from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI. After an initial $4 million investment, CEPI this month said it would commit as much as $388 million in additional funds for the Novavax coronavirus vaccine program.
Preclinical tests of the Novavax candidate showed enough promise to move it into a human test that began on May 25. That study is structured as a Phase 1/2 trial. That means if initial safety data are positive, Novavax can then enroll a larger group of patients in multiple countries and see whether it can prevent disease.
To date, Novavax has struggled to break into a vaccine market largely controlled by pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi. A late-stage trial of a potential vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus failed in 2019, sending Novavax shares into a nosedive.
But the company’s fortunes improved this year, when a late-stage study of an experimental influenza vaccine reported positive results. Novavax's influenza and coronavirus vaccine candidates each use the same nanoparticle-based technology.
Novavax’s latest acquisition gives the company access to a 150,000-square-foot facility in Bohumil and about 150 new employees.
Praha Vaccines is part of the Cyrus Poonawalla Group, which also owns the Serum Institute of India. Novavax said it will work with the Serum Institute to increase production at the facility in Bohumil by the end of this year.