The intense demand for a coronavirus vaccine has all types of players in the treatment race.
Novavax (NVAX) is the latest biotech company to announce that it is entering its vaccine in clinical trials. It’s recombinant technology, already tested in a late-stage flu vaccine trial, focuses on using DNA from the virus to create a vaccine.
The Phase 1 clinical trial in Australia is the first in the Southern Hemisphere, and is focusing on 130 participants. Pre-clinical data showed a lower dose of the vaccine was effective, which lays a foundation for potentially greater volumes of the vaccine to be produced.
Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of Novavax’s research and development, told Yahoo Finance Tuesday that the company is aiming to produce 100 million doses by the end of the year, and 1 billion by 2021. Trial results are expected as early as July, with a vaccine ready for emergency use by the fall.
“This trial is designed to be very compressed,” Glenn said, adding that the company hopes to get into the next phase by August, at which point the vaccine is proven effective enough to be deployed.
When asked about recent surveys showing people are hesitant to be given the vaccine because of the fast pace of development, Glenn said the company’s technology has been proven in a late-stage flu vaccine.
“The less proven, the earlier the technology, the more you need to pay attention to their side effects,” he said, adding that side effects are common but the severity is important. Finding the right balance of side effects and effectively blocking the virus is what is at stake. If a vaccine were to be deployed, Novavax has a robust system for any side effect to be reported, Glenn said.
So far, though, the data looks promising, according to Glenn. “The immune responses we are seeing are well in excess of what we see in people who have (the) infection.”
Novavax is one of a number of smaller biotech firms receiving funding from the European nonprofit CEPI, which is partially backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CEPI awarded its largest funding amount to-date to Novavax — up to $388 million.
Inovio (INO) and Moderna (MRNA)— the latter of which is leading the race in the U.S. — are among the smaller players receiving nonprofit and government funding to develop and produce coronavirus vaccines. Pfizer (PFE), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), AstraZeneca (AZN), Sanofi (SNY) with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Merck (MRK) are among the larger pharmaceuticals. Many of the larger companies are relying on government funding to scale up production of the vaccines while they are still being tested in trials.
The goal to provide millions or billions of doses by the end of the year comes with concerns about how priorities will be set for global access and pricing. On access, Glenn said Novavax is working with CEPI to do just that.
But the price of the vaccine remains a concern.
“It’s not a cheap process. I think right now, it’s a complete unknown,” Glenn said. “We’re a global health company, we want to see the poorest of the poor get a vaccine as well as our fellow citizens of the United States.”
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