A major British laboratory is forming a special partnership that will restrain the pharmaceutical industry to sell potential vaccines against coronoviruses in the UK and in low and middle income countries without profits or license fees.
Scientists, nonprofit groups and public health experts have urged that any successful vaccine to combat the epidemic be distributed on the basis of the lowest possible cost and need rather than benefit. But for-profit pharmaceutical giants or biotechnology startups have dominated the growth race, particularly in the United States, a significant market due to its high drug prices.
The British laboratory at Imperial College London could change that scenario partly, as its technology has the potential to develop a vaccine that the project’s lead scientist, Robin Shtock, said is cheaper and easier to find than others.
If successful, he said, the low cost of the vaccine may appeal to large donor organizations that typically supply low-income countries, which make up most of the world. It can also provide a cheaper alternative in affluent countries.
“Someone who is developing a product that is going to be costing too much will really lose out if the high volume market doesn’t support it,” Shattock said.
Clinical trials are starting this month, and if the vaccine proves to be safe and effective, the first dose may be available early next year.
To make the vaccine available as widely and cheaply as possible, Shattock said, Imperial College is creating a “social enterprise” – chartered to sell inoculations to a special purpose, profit company.
Imperial College is building the company in partnership with investment firm Morningside Ventures, which is based in Hong Kong. The new entity will be called VacEquity Global Health.
Mornings Ventures was founded by the Chan family, which is T.H. Is also a major donor. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.
The Imperial College has promised that VacEquity Global Health will make its vaccine available in the UK as well as in lower-middle-income countries at the lowest possible cost. Vacancy will work with specialized pharmaceutical manufacturers in the same process of producing and selling generic drugs.
The new company may charge a higher price in wealthy countries like the United States, Singapore or the Persian Gulf monarchy.
A clinical trial of 300 participants in the UK – an unusual combined stage one and two – starting on 15 June. If this drug is safe, Imperial College will conduct a phase-out of 6,000 participants in October to test the vaccine’s effectiveness. The location of the latter phase will depend on where the virus is spreading rapidly over time.
Imperial College is using a novel technology that has never produced a licensed vaccine before. It has been described as self-amplified RNA and credited by Shattock for decades of research. The vaccine contains specially engineered genetic material – RNA – that instructs muscle cells in the body to produce a specific “spike” protein found on the surface of the coronovirus.
If the vaccine is successful, those proteins will trigger an immune response that will kill the virus.
Modern technology, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has begun clinical testing for a vaccine using a similar technique, known as messenger RNA. The US government has agreed to give $ 483 million to Modern to pursue its research, and reports of positive results in the early stages of testing have boosted the company’s stock.
The self-amplified RNA vaccine from Imperial College, Shattock said, would require much lower doses – 50 to 100 times smaller – than modern vaccines – which would greatly reduce the cost per dose. He said that Imperial College vaccines would require a smaller and less expensive formulation than vaccines using other techniques, such as neutralized or modified versions of existing viruses.
The British government has provided more than $ 50 million in financial support for the Imperial College effort, and has also attracted $ 5 million from other donors.
The University of Oxford, which is beginning three clinical trials of an alternative potential vaccine, has tried a different approach to low-cost delivery. The university reached an unusual agreement with the British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which has promised to distribute the potential vaccine without any benefit for the duration of the epidemic.
AstraZeneca has already received hundreds of millions of dollars from the US government, the British government and major non-profit organizations to begin manufacturing as much as 2 billion doses of Oxford’s potential vaccine before its effectiveness can be proven.
If demand persists after the pandemic fades – perhaps as a seasonal virus – AstraZeneca has said it could seek profit from the sale of the vaccine.