Glax­o­SmithK­line dou­bles down on Cure­Vac's mR­NA tech, bets $180M on the hunt for next-gen vac­cine

As new vari­ants high­light the pos­si­bil­i­ty that we will have to live with Covid-19 for­ev­er, Glax­o­SmithK­line is dou­bling down on its Cure­Vac part­ner­ship in search of an mR­NA vac­cine of the fu­ture.

And if it all goes smooth­ly, GSK might have a block­buster vac­cine all of its own in 2022.

Bankrolled with $180 mil­lion (€150 mil­lion) from GSK, the new co-de­vel­op­ment pact will see both com­pa­nies con­tribut­ing re­sources and ex­per­tise to­ward a num­ber of new mR­NA vac­cine can­di­dates — “in­clud­ing mul­ti-va­lent and mono­va­lent ap­proach­es.” €75 mil­lion of that is paid up­front and the rest is in mile­stones.

In ad­di­tion, the phar­ma gi­ant says it will lever­age a man­u­fac­tur­ing net­work in Bel­gium to sup­port Cure­Vac in the man­u­fac­ture of up to 100 mil­lion dos­es of its cur­rent shot in 2021, join­ing Bay­er in back­ing the biotech’s pro­duc­tion.

Even though the lead­ing mR­NA play­ers say their vac­cines are still able to pro­tect against new coro­n­avirus vari­ants emerg­ing in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, da­ta from them and oth­er de­vel­op­ers sug­gest they may not be as po­tent as they are against the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the virus that the vac­cines had been de­signed for.

GSK’s goal, it says in a state­ment, is to both cov­er those ex­ist­ing vari­ants while en­abling a quick re­sponse to any oth­ers that could pop up in the fu­ture. The next-gen vac­cine from the Cure­Vac plat­form is ex­pect­ed to reach the mar­ket in 2022, and GSK will be the own­er in most mar­kets ex­cept Ger­many, Aus­tria and Switzer­land.

Al­though Cure­Vac has fall­en sig­nif­i­cant­ly be­hind Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na in bring­ing a first-gen Covid-19 vac­cine to the mar­ket — with a Phase IIb/III tri­al still on­go­ing — GSK has pre­vi­ous­ly bet that its low­er dose, man­u­fac­tura­bil­i­ty and sta­bil­i­ty at stan­dard re­frig­er­a­tor con­di­tions can of­fer su­pe­ri­or so­lu­tions in oth­er in­fec­tious dis­eases.

The new deal sig­ni­fies the think­ing that Covid-19 vac­ci­na­tion won’t be a once and done mat­ter — even if the pan­dem­ic abates.

“We be­lieve that next gen­er­a­tion vac­cines will be cru­cial in the con­tin­ued fight against COVID-19,” GSK CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley said.

Her com­pa­ny has stum­bled on a cou­ple bat­tles along the way. GSK jumped in­to the vac­cine hunt ear­ly by of­fer­ing its ad­ju­vant to re­searchers test­ing re­com­bi­nant pro­tein-based jabs, on­ly to run in­to a ma­jor de­lay with its big Sanofi col­lab­o­ra­tion and, more re­cent­ly, drop a sec­ond deal with Clover af­ter the Chi­nese part­ner opt­ed to take a dif­fer­ent ad­ju­vant in­to lat­er stages of test­ing.

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