New coronavirus vaccine developed by Novavax with operations in Sweden and the US

Within a year and a half, a vaccine against the new coronavirus could be available. It has already shown promising results in animal studies. - We have the opportunity to make a great contribution to humanity, it is clear that we are all under pressure in the business to do our utmost," says Gregory Glenn of Novavax.

The new coronavirus vaccine, or SARS-CoV-2 as it is called, does not have to be developed from scratch, which is why it could be ready relatively soon. Novavax, with operations in Sweden and the US, has used its existing technology platforms and therefore has a head start. The new vaccine candidate is similar to previously developed candidates against SARS, MERS and Ebola that the company has in its portfolio. The unique feature of Novavax vaccine is the combination of a nano-particulate protein (vaccine antigen) together with the Swedish-produced enhancer Matrix-M, a substance known in vaccines as an adjuvant.

– “The Swedish-made adjuvant is crucial for the vaccine to provide effective protection against Covid-19,” says Gregory Glenn, Director of Research and Development at Novavax in the US.

It started seven years ago when Uppsala-based Isconova was acquired by US vaccine manufacturer Novavax. The company was founded by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) who had developed a new vaccine adjuvant based on immune-stimulating saponins. The Uppsala company’s adjuvant can extend the duration of a vaccine’s effectiveness and allow vaccines to be given at a lower dose.

See also: Public Health Agency of Sweden enlists help from industry to increase COVID-19 testing capacity

– Novavax has adjuvants for both human and veterinary products. One of our saponin-based adjuvants has long been used commercially in equine influenza vaccines. The same product platform is also used in several vaccine candidates being developed within the group, so we know it works,” says Jenny Reimer, PhD immunologist and Alliance Manager at the Swedish part of Novavax.

The vaccine as a whole is manufactured in the USA. When the SARS-CoV-2 genome was published early this year, Novavax took selected genes and expressed these antigens (proteins) in cell culture. These antigens are then mixed with the adjuvant to make the final vaccine.

As the protein of SARS-CoV-2 is similar to proteins of other coronaviruses, the company can use the same manufacturing processes used for the development of SARS and MERS vaccines. Unlike measles or rubella vaccines, which are vaccines based on live (weakened) viruses, Novavax vaccines are based only on purified proteins. This provides milder side effects, but any side effects must still be carefully evaluated. The exact dose and how to administer the vaccine to get the best effect must also be tested in humans.

How long will this take?

– Normally, it takes 8-10 years from idea to finished vaccine, but in this case we can’t wait that long. Now every step taken must be faster. Maybe we can do it within 12 to 18 months. Now the vaccine candidate must first be tested in humans. At best, we can do it in early summer. If there is a second wave of infection, our goal is to have a vaccine available then,” Glenn continues.

No money?

– Yes, of course, vaccine development is costly. It is difficult for a smaller company to take full costs as they do not know what the market will be like when the vaccine is ready.

What do you do now?

– We have received initial financial support from CEPI (The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation), but as always with vaccines for new infectious diseases such as Ebola, demand from different nations also needs to be secured.

Can you be sure that the vaccine works?

– We are 99%, I have had the privilege to see how vaccines are developed, used and then change everything. It’s like a miracle, severe diseases just disappearing,” says Gregory Glenn.

– In this case, the most important thing is to prevent people from becoming seriously ill and ending up in hospital.

How well prepared is the US for new and contagious viruses?

– We have prepared, but I think the current situation should definitely be seen as an evaluation of our preparedness. For example, here in the US, the CDC has thought about how vaccines can be given to many people, they have different vaccines in stock and they have planned for measures to reduce and limit infection. We are prepared.

Novavax is one of 30 companies in Sweden that work against infectious diseases, according to the industry organization Sweden Bio’s as yet unpublished survey.

Can Sweden play a role in the fight against coronavirus?

– Yes, the fact that we have so many companies in this area alone is proof of the innovation engine we have. Many people are engaged in the fight against the coronavirus now, but we should also not forget that we have a promising pipeline ahead with projects in all areas, not least cancer. Both the proximity to academia and the fact that we can take advantage of global collaborations are clear. Novavax is an excellent example of this,” says Helena Strigård, CEO of the industry organization Sweden Bio.

Jenny Reimer, Alliance Manager at Novavax in Sweden.


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