The U.S. biotechnology company Vaxxinity has raised the prospect of revolutions in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s because of unprecedented resources and channeled energy in vaccine research since the beginning of the pandemic.
Covid-19 has already resulted in the first mRNA-based vaccines and now Vaxxinity is developing a new coronavirus vaccine with synthetic proteins that it says can have wide application.
“Some of the most successful drugs today are biological drugs, but they are very expensive and often quite inconvenient to use. Our vision is to disrupt this class of drugs with next-generation, next-generation vaccines,” he told the Financial Times Mei Mei Hu, CEO of Vaxxinity.
Vaxxinity’s Covid-19 jab, currently in phase 2 trials, adopts a technique that 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 conditions.
The strain is more similar to more traditional vaccines with recombinant protein coronaviruses developed by Sanofi / GSK and Novavax. But instead of growing proteins in large vats, Vaxxinity proteins are made using chemicals.
These so-called synthetic peptides mimic the spike protein, as do other vaccines, but also other proteins from the Covid-19 virus Sars-Cov-2.
“Marketing Covid means not only testing one aspect, a modality of our platform for infectious diseases, but also being able to fuel the development of other programs outside of this technology platform,” Hu said.
Vaxxinity’s Alzheimer’s drug, which he says uses a similar technology, encourages the body to remove from the brain poorly folded proteins called amyloid plaques, because genetic analysis has linked them to the symptoms of the disease. A complete Phase 2 trial was not large enough to draw statistically valid conclusions, so we are moving to a larger study, Hu said.
About 35m people suffer from cognitive illness worldwide, and almost all existing drugs to fight the disease treat only their symptoms. On Monday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first Alzheimer’s drug that aims to slow the progression of the disease.
Other pharmaceutical companies have tried to develop drugs similar to Vaxxinity treatment before, but have not been successful. An injectable treatment of monoclonal antibodies developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson was stopped in 2012 after a small proportion of cases developed inflammation in the brain in clinical trials. Vaxxinity said it has addressed this issue and that the product is now safe and consistent.
Coronavirus has accelerated all of Vaxxinity’s work, Hu said. “We’ve compressed what would have taken a lot longer in this Covid pandemic time. Things that would have lasted five years are compressed to 18 months.”
He added that the company has expanded its internal infrastructure to support global clinical trials and is working to quickly create a reliable supply chain.
Since the inputs for the Covid-19 strain, known as UB-612, are relatively good and the vaccine does not need to be kept in the refrigerator, the company expects to sell it mainly to countries with lower incomes. However, he says he has also had interest from developed markets, including the EU. Although the shot is not yet approved, Vaxxinity has already confirmed the 140m dose request, he says.
Caroline Casey, at the scientific analysis company Airfinity, said Vaxxinity was one of several pharmaceutical companies, such as Modern U.S. Biotechnology, that had a boost from the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
“If they are going to manufacture a Covid vaccine and have some similar vaccine in their pipeline, manufacturing for one will massively help them select manufacturing for the others,” he said.
Vaxxinity is the American subsidiary of United Biomedical, a Taiwanese pharmaceutical group founded by Wang Chang-yi, Hu’s mother. He also develops drugs against migraines and hypercholesterolemia, a condition that presents with high levels of blood fat.
He said his team was growing to respond to the pandemic. “As a result we are better positioned in terms of our other pipeline, even for neuroimmune and other diseases,” he said. “It has definitely accelerated the company’s trajectory.”