Biopharma Business

Canada approves the use of Covifenz, the first plant-based covid vaccine

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Canada approves the use of Covifenz, the first plant-based covid vaccine

March 01
15:00 2022

Canada is set to be the first country to give citizens the option for a vegetarian coronavirus shot. The world’s first plant-derived Covid vaccine, Covifenz, was cleared for use in Canada this week, widening the country’s toolbox to combat the pandemic. It will be available for adults ages 18 to 64.

Covifenz is made from plant-grown proteins that, to the human immune system, look like the virus that causes Covid-19. The vaccine also uses GlaxoSmithKline’s pandemic adjuvant, a substance that boosts the body’s virus-fighting response. The vaccination regimen calls for two doses in a three-week interval. 

The shot was jointly developed by Medicago, a Quebec City-based biopharma company owned by Mitsubishi Chemical and Philip Morris International, and Glaxo, the British pharma giant.

A worker at Medicago facility. Source: Medicago

The approval gives people who might be hesitant to take currently available vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and others another option. Many countries are struggling to raise vaccination rates and are requiring citizens to be immunized to get into restaurants, shopping malls, trains and planes. 

Covifenz demonstrated 71% efficacy against multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in December. To make it, Medicago uses a close relative to tobacco plants, nicotiana benthamiana, that has a weakened immune system, allowing it to easily host genetic material and grow particles that mimic viruses. For cigarette-maker Philip Morris, the vaccine project is part of a wider push into health and wellness products.

Medicago hopes Covifenz will generate about $1 billion a year eventually, says Mitsubishi Chemical Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Gilson. One big selling point: The vaccine is easier to transport and store than rival mRNA shots, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, because it doesn’t need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures.

Medicago has a contract with the Canadian government to supply up to 76 million doses of the vaccine and is in talks with other countries about potential agreements, CEO Takashi Nagao has said. The immunization was granted fast-track designation for potential approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2021.

We’ve come a long way from scrambling for Covid shots. With the arrival of new vaccines — both those using more traditional technologies as well as novel ones like Covifenz — there’s a chance more people will get vaccinated and help bring a faster end to the pandemic. 

Written by Kanoko Matsuyama.

Source: Bloomberg.

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