Canadian plant-based vaccine developer Medicago shutters months after layoffs
Plant-based Covid-19 vaccine developer Medicago shut down this week with little fanfare. And its two subsidiaries, Medicago R&D and Medicago USA, are also closing their doors, according to a company news release.
The lone shareholder left standing, Japan-based Mitsubishi Chemical Group, “has determined not to make further investments in Medicago and to proceed with an orderly wind-up of its business and operations in Canada and in the United States.”
According to the Mitsubishi release, after a February 2022 approval for its vaccine, Medicago had started preparing for commercial production. But after “significant changes to the Covid-19 vaccine landscape” since approval, it has decided to get out of the race.
“In addition, the Group judged that it was not viable to continue to make further investment in the commercialization of Medicago’s development products,” the statement reads.
The shutdown comes just a little over three months after Medicago laid off 62 employees at its manufacturing facility in North Carolina. At the time, Medicago CEO Toshifumi Tada, who had just taken over the role in May of last year, told Endpoints News: “We are hard at work on a new approach to developing and manufacturing plant-based therapeutics that meets the needs of global public health.”
But the company never received the green light for its vaccine from the World Health Organization, cutting Medicago off from a wider base of potential patients. The WHO balked at accepting an emergency use listing application for Medicago’s Covid-19 vaccine because of the biotech’s ties to the tobacco industry, specifically part-owner Philip Morris International, which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes.
Last March, Endpoints reported that the tobacco company had a 21% stake in Medicago, down from about a third of shares in 2021. But in December of last year, Philip Morris divested the rest of its stake in Medicago.
Despite ties to Philip Morris, the Canadian government approved Covifenz a year ago for people 18 to 64 years old. In Phase III trials, it was 71% effective against infection across all variants, and over 75% effective against the then-dominant Delta variant, thanks in part to GSK’s adjuvant technology. It could also be kept in warmer temperatures than the mRNA vaccines.
The vaccine used plant-based virus-like particles that mimicked the spike protein.
GSK licensed its tech directly to the Canadian government, which back in 2020 gave at least $131 million to produce Medicago’s vaccine. Also in 2020, it entered into an agreement with Canada to supply up to 76 million doses of its vaccine.
According to Medicago’s website, it had other candidates in the works, including for the pandemic and seasonal flu, which were in Phase II trials and for the rotavirus in Phase I. It had a candidate for a Covid-19 and flu combination in the preclinical stage.