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Plant-Based Vaccine for COVID-19 Could Prevent Novel Coronavirus Spread

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 24 Mar 2020
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Image: Plant-based vaccine for COVID-19 could prevent novel coronavirus spread (Photo courtesy of Medicago, Inc.)
Image: Plant-based vaccine for COVID-19 could prevent novel coronavirus spread (Photo courtesy of Medicago, Inc.)
Medicago, Inc. (Quebec City, Canada), a biopharmaceutical company, has successfully produced a Virus-Like Particle (VLP) of the coronavirus just 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 (virus causing the COVID-19 disease) gene. The production of the VLP is the first step in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 which will now undergo preclinical testing for safety and efficacy. Once this is completed, Medicago expects to discuss with the appropriate health agencies to initiate human trials of the vaccine by July-August 2020.

Medicago uses a proprietary plant-based technology to develop protein-based therapeutics. Unlike traditional vaccination development, the company does not use animal products or live viruses to create its products. Instead, it uses VLPs that mimic the shape and dimensions of a virus, which allows the body to recognize them and create an immune response in a non-infectious way. Clinical trial data suggest that VLPs have a multi-modal mechanism of action that is different from that of inactivated vaccines, activating both arms of the immune system – antibody and cell-mediated responses. Medicago’s proprietary technology is rapid, versatile, and scalable. As soon as the genetic sequence of a virus is made available, Medicago can develop a clinical-grade vaccine candidate in only a few weeks. Its recombinant technology allows the production of a vaccine that precisely matches the circulating strains, such as in the case of seasonal influenza. The technology is easily scalable, allowing the company to increase volume of production by simply increasing the number of plants it uses.

Medicago has previously demonstrated its capability as a first responder in a flu pandemic. In 2009, the company produced a research-grade vaccine candidate against H1N1 in just 19 days. In 2012, Medicago manufactured 10 million doses of a monovalent influenza vaccine within one month for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the US Department of Defense. In 2015, Medicago also demonstrated that it could rapidly produce an anti-Ebola monoclonal antibody cocktail for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Medicago’s first product, a seasonal recombinant quadrivalent VLP vaccine for active immunization against influenza, is currently under review by Health Canada following the completion of a robust safety and efficacy clinical program involving over 25,000 patients.

Medicago is also using its technology platform to develop antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in collaboration with the Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre headed by Dr. Gary Kobinger, Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre at Laval University, who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola. These SARS-CoV-2 antibodies could potentially be used to treat people infected by the virus.

“The pace of our initial progress in COVID-19 is attributable to the capability of our plant-based platform which is able to produce vaccine and antibody solutions to counteract this global public health threat. The ability to produce a candidate vaccine within 20 days after obtaining the gene is a critical differentiator for our proven technology. This technology enables scale-up at unprecedented speed to potentially combat COVID-19,” said Dr. Bruce Clark, CEO of Medicago.

“The collaborative efforts established between the research team at Laval University and Medicago have been very successful in developing unique antibodies against infectious diseases such as RSV and HMPV and that experience gives us confidence for successful identification of therapeutic antibodies against SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Gary Kobinger.

Related Links:
Medicago, Inc.


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