US biotech company Vaxxinity spoke of the prospect of breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease thanks to the unprecedented resources and energy spent on vaccine research since the start of the pandemic .
Covid-19 has already given rise to the first approved mRNA-based vaccines and Vaxxinity is now developing a new vaccine against the coronavirus using synthetic proteins which it believes may have wide application.
“Some of the most effective drugs today are biologics, but they are very expensive and often inconvenient to use. Our vision is to disrupt this class of drugs with next generation vaccines, ”Mei Mei Hu, CEO of Vaxxinity, told the Financial Times.
Vaxxinity’s Covid-19 jab, currently in phase 2 trials, uses a technique it also applies to its “immunotherapeutic” vaccines that “train the body to produce its own antibodies against internal disease targets.” It could also be used against neurodegenerative diseases.
The shot is most similar to the more traditional recombinant protein coronavirus vaccines developed by Sanofi / GSK and Novavax. But instead of growing proteins in large vats, Vaxxinity’s proteins are made using chemicals.
These so-called synthetic peptides mimic the spike protein, as do other vaccines, but also other proteins of the Sars-Cov-2 virus which causes Covid-19.
“Commercializing Covid means not only proving one aspect, a modality of our infectious disease platform, but also being able to fuel the development of other programs from this technology platform,” Hu said.
Vaxxinity’s Alzheimer’s disease drug, which uses similar technology, encourages the body to remove misfolded proteins called amyloid plaques from the brain because genetic analysis has linked them to symptoms of the disease. A completed Phase 2 trial was not large enough to draw statistically valid conclusions, so it is moving to a larger study, Hu said.
Around 35 million people suffer from dementia worldwide, and almost all of the existing drugs for the disease only treat its symptoms. On Monday, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the first Alzheimer’s disease drug that claims to slow the progression of the disease.
Other pharmaceutical companies have already tried to develop drugs similar to the Vaxxinity treatment, but have not been successful. An injectable monoclonal antibody treatment developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson was discontinued in 2012 after a small proportion of cases developed inflammation in the brain during clinical trials. Vaxxinity said it fixed this issue and the product is now safe and consistent.
The coronavirus has sped up all of Vaxxinity’s work, Hu said. “We have compressed what would have taken much longer in this time of the Covid pandemic. Things that would have taken five years are reduced to 18 months. “
Hu added that the company has expanded its internal infrastructure to support global clinical trials and is working to build a reliable supply chain quickly.
Since the inputs for the Covid-19 vaccine, known as UB-612, are relatively inexpensive and the vaccine does not need to be stored in the freezer, the company plans to sell primarily to countries low income. However, he says it has also attracted interest from developed markets, including the EU. Although the shot is yet to be approved, Vaxxinity has already confirmed the request for 140 million doses, he says.
Caroline Casey, of science analysis firm Airfinity, said Vaxxinity was one of several pharmaceutical companies, such as US biotech Moderna, to benefit from the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
“If they’re going to make a Covid vaccine and they have similar vaccines in their pipeline, manufacturing for one will help massively sort out manufacturing for others,” she said.
Vaxxinity is the US subsidiary of United Biomedical, a Taiwanese pharmaceutical group founded by Wang Chang-yi, Hu’s mother. She is also developing medicines for migraines and high cholesterol, a disease characterized by increased levels of fat in the blood.
Hu said his team has grown to respond to the pandemic. “As a result, we are better positioned in terms of our other pipeline, including for neuroimmune diseases and others,” she said. “It has certainly accelerated the trajectory of the company.