Quebec-City-based Medicago, a subsidiary to Japan-based Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, reports a breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, making a claim that it has developed a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that could begin human testing as early as this summer. The venture reports it has produced a virus-like particle of the novel coronavirus, a first step toward producing a vaccine, which will now commence pre-clinical testing for safety and efficacy.

Who is Medicago?

Founded back in 1997, Medicago formed a partnership between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Laval, the company’s majority shares were acquired by Japanese company Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma in 2013. They are a biotech company focusing on the research, development, production, and commercialization of vaccines in Canada. They develop vaccines based on their proprietary technologies, including the plant-based Proficia technology and Virus-Like Particles (VLP) technology. They have a number of collaborative agreements in place, including with Viridis S.A. and Philip Morris International.

Medicago Vaccine Success Track Record

Medicago is a leader in plant-based technology, having previously demonstrated its capability to be 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 U.S. Department of Defense. In 2015, Medicago also demonstrated that it could rapidly produce an antiEbola monoclonal antibody cocktail for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. 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

University of Laval Collaboration

Dr. Gary Kobinger, Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre at Laval University, noted in the company’s press release “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”.

How did they Produce the COVID-19 candidate?

They were able to create a vaccine candidate quickly based on the use of their plant-based platform (Proficia Technology and VLP) and not chicken embryos, to help grow the vaccine proteins. According to CEO Bruce Clark, Medicago researchers were able to produce a candidate vaccine within just 20 days of obtaining the gene of the virus.

How soon could they be ready for clinical trials? Commercialization?

According to their press release, as soon as July or August 2020 if approved by Health Canada and other relevant agencies. Their CEO, Bruce Clark, reports that this vaccine could potentially be available to the wider public by November 2021.

Do they have Production capability?

Yes. If they secure approvals, they can produce up to 10 million doses a month out of their North Carolina plant, reports their CEO. Additionally, they command the resources to produce about two million doses a month out of their plant in Quebec, Canada.

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Source: Medicago

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