As Covid Mutes, Vaccine Manufacturers Adapt Too | Pharmaceutical industry


The speed at which scientists worked to develop the first Covid jabs was unprecedented. Just nine months after the UK lockdown, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan officially became the first person in the world outside of a trial to receive the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. But the virus is mutating, and the emergence of the Omicron variant last month is already drawing attention to the next generation of jabs.

So what do we know about the new vaccines against Covid-19? One change involves delivery mechanisms, such as the pill-form vaccine from San Francisco-based company Vaxart and Scancell’s spring-loaded injectors that puncture the skin without a needle. But the biggest development is in T cell technology. Produced by the bone marrow, T cells are white blood cells that form a key part of the immune system. While current vaccines mainly generate antibodies that adhere to the virus and prevent it from infecting the body, new vaccines prime T cells to find and destroy infected cells, thereby preventing viral replication and disease. (Current vaccines also produce a T cell response, but to a lesser extent.)

After a recent study published in Nature, the scientists said vaccines targeting a T-cell response could produce much longer lasting immunity and better fight viral mutations. “The first generation Covid-19 vaccines were a swift and massive victory – much bigger than we dared to predict,” said Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London. “But they’re just the first generation of quick wins, that’s how you have to look at them. In moving forward, there are challenges to consider.

Here are some of the companies at the forefront of development:


Last week, Medicago in Canada and UK-based GlaxoSmithKline announced “positive efficacy and safety results” from a global trial for what they say is the first herbal vaccine in the UK. world. It is based on a relative of the tobacco plant, used to produce a particle that mimics the virus, and is combined with an adjuvant made by GSK, which stimulates the general immune response. The advanced stage trial, which involved 24,000 adults in six countries, showed that the jab had an overall effectiveness rate of 71%, reaching 75% against the Delta variant. The study did not include the new Omicron variant.

Medicago, majority owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings since 2013 while Philip Morris International owns a third of the shares, is filing for regulatory approval in Canada and is also in talks with US and UK regulators. The World Health Organization has described plant-derived vaccines as “a new and exciting possibility”, inexpensive to produce and easy to store.


The Nasdaq-listed biotech company has developed what it says is the world’s first oral Covid vaccine, which elicits a T-cell response and generates antibodies in the nose. The company administered its first patients in a mid-term clinical trial in October. It also tests if the tablet works against Omicron.

A larger international trial with 800 participants will follow next year. Full data from the US trial is expected by March.

The tablets can be stored without refrigeration, which makes them easier to use around the world and solves the problem of needle phobia.

“If you give a pill and a glass of water, you can go much faster,” says Dr Sean Tucker, who founded Vaxart 17 years ago. “The lining is where the virus invades, and if we stop it there, we keep people healthier and fight this virus and its variants.”

Digitization cell

The Scancell Needle Free System.

Now Oxford-based University of Nottingham spin-out is testing two candidate vaccines that induce antibody and T-cell responses against original and variant Sars-CoV-2 viruses in 40 healthy volunteers in South Africa . The first patient received a dose in October and Scancell will conduct another trial in the UK, with the first data from early-stage clinical trials expected by June.

The vaccines were developed with the two Nottingham universities, with £ 2million funding from Innovate UK, and are based on a modification of Scancell’s DNA vaccine technology. They are administered via needle-less, spring-loaded injectors that use a narrow stream of liquid to penetrate the skin.

Founded in 1997 by Lindy Durrant, Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Nottingham and Managing Director of the company, Scancell specializes in the development of cancer vaccines. It was listed in London in 2008. Its two largest shareholders are US healthcare investor Redmile and the Singapore Vulpes Life Science Fund, while Durrant and other executives together own 1.8% of the company.


The Oxfordshire-based company has developed a T-cell vaccine that ultimately takes the form of an easy-to-administer skin patch. It recruited 26 people for its first human trial in January. The product can last up to three months at room temperature. Emergex, founded in 2016 by Thomas Rademacher, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Medicine at University College London to develop T cell vaccines, is owned by Singaporean venture capital firm Vickers Venture Partners, its management, high net worth individuals and at family offices.

The Vaccines Group

The University of Plymouth spin-out, part of which is owned by intellectual property specialist Frontier IP, developed a vaccine based on the herpes virus that has been shown in animal studies to work both against Covid and Sars. It stimulates a strong T cell response, is believed to be effective against other variants, and may stimulate other vaccines, says Jeremy Salt, managing director, a trained veterinarian who worked for Pfizer in vaccine development. The group is looking for a business partner who can produce the vaccine on a large scale for human trials next year. It will be administered as an injection or nasal spray.


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