Covid-19 roundup: Gates Foundation, Exscientia team up on pandemic antiviral discovery pact; Novavax opens trial for coronavirus/flu combo vaccine
UK-based AI discovery outfit Exscientia has signed its name to a $70 million collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to drum up five antiviral candidates for use against coronaviruses and potential pandemic viruses, the partners said Wednesday.
The partnership will pay Exscientia $35 million in equity through the Gates Foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund with the potential for more grant funding. Exscientia, meanwhile, will front $35 million in matching funds to support the discovery work up to Phase I. The term of the pact is four years, and Exscientia will be tasked with finding “small molecule therapeutics with less susceptibility to variants and greater patient access than current approaches,” the company said in a release.
The initial focus for the collab will be what the partners call “broad-spectrum coronavirus agents,” which includes SARS-CoV-2 and its variants as well as MERS. That first checkpoint will accelerate Exscientia’s existing Mpro program targeting the main protease of the novel coronavirus. Then, the partners will turn their focus to therapies for influenza and the Nipah virus, with the potential to add more targets down the road.
“Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health,” said Denise Barrault, Exscientia’s director of portfolio management, in a statement. “Certain targets are prevalent across families of viruses, meaning that potent therapeutics could be broadly effective across multiple virus families. Further, this collaboration will focus on evaluating protein targets that are evolutionarily conserved and are less likely to develop resistance.”
Novavax opens early-stage trial for Covid-19/flu vaccine combo
Novavax has initiated a Phase I/II trial combining its recombinant protein-based NVX-CoV2373 for Covid-19 and NanoFlu with its proprietary Matrix-M adjuvant in a single dose, the company said Wednesday.
The trial will evaluate the safety, tolerability and immune response to the combo formulation in 640 healthy adults aged 50 to 70, according to Novavax. Health volunteers will have been either previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 or vaccinated through an authorized vaccine at least eight weeks prior to enrollment, and randomly assigned to cohorts to evaluate multiple formulations and dosed on day 0 and again at Day 56.
The trial will be conducted in Australia at up to 12 study sites, with results expected during the first half of 2022, Novavax said.
Pascal Soriot casts doubt on the need for immediate boosters — report
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot is downplaying the need for immediate vaccine boosters against Covid-19, arguing that a third dose might not be needed and could put undue pressure on the UK’s National Health Service, Reuters reported.
In comments first reported by the Telegraph, Soriot said he was waiting on more clinical data from real-world studies to determine the need for boosters.
The fear here is that a widespread campaign to get booster shots into as many patients’ hands as possible could put a major burden on the NHS amid a winter season that will likely see a wave of influenza patients. AstraZeneca has approval for its own Covid-19 vaccine in the UK but not in the US.