Medicago Develops Plant-Based Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate


Canada’s Medicago announced Thursday it has successfully produced a Virus-Like Particle (VLP) of the coronavirus just 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 gene. The company is now focused on developing a vaccine for COVID-19, the virus caused by SARS-CoV-2.

In its announcement, the company said it will initiate preclinical testing for safety and efficacy and, if all goes well, the company anticipates the beginning of human trials by July or August. 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. The antibodies could potentially be used to treat people infected by the virus. The university program is headed by Gary Kobinger, who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola.

Bruce Clark, chief executive officer of Medicago said the pace of its progress in COVID-19 research is “is attributable to the capability” of the company’s plant-based platform, which is used to develop protein-based therapeutics. Clark said the plant-based approach allows the company 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,” Clark said in a statement.

According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, there have been 135,382 confirmed cases of coronavirus diagnosed across the globe, with 1,701 in the United States. Of those global cases, there have been 4,981 deaths and 69,645 recoveries.

Medicago isn’t the only company turning its resources toward the coronavirus. Also on Thursday, Eli Lilly and Canada-based AbCellera announced a collaboration to develop antibody products for the treatment of COVID-19. AbCellera said that within one week of receiving that blood sample, it screened more than 5 million immune cells looking for ones that produced functional antibodies that helped the patient neutralize the virus and recover from the disease. A larger, but by no means, exhaustive list of coronavirus programs under development can be found here.

Medicago is no stranger to responding to pandemics, which is now the state of the coronavirus following a declaration from the World Health Organization earlier this week. In 2009, the company produced a research-grade vaccine candidate against H1N1 in just 19 days. Three years later, Medicago manufactured 10 million doses of a monovalent influenza vaccine within one months’ time. Then, in 2015, Medicago also demonstrated that it could rapidly produce an anti-Ebola monoclonal antibody treatment to respond to the crisis in Africa.

Kobinger, who helped develop the Ebola therapeutic, said the collaborative efforts between his 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.”

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.

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