As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be in short supply around the world, pharma giants such as Bayer (Nasdaq: BAYRY) are stepping up to help fulfill the need. Bayer has agreed to assist in the manufacturing of an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine, CVnCOV, developed by fellow German biopharma company CureVac (Nasdaq: CVAC).
In early January, Bayer also struck an agreement with the company to support the further development, supply and key territory operations of CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Although the famed Aspirin maker has never dabbled in human vaccine development or manufacturing in its almost 160-year long history, its experience and expertise in medicine-making for the improvement of human health certainly lends it favor for the task at hand.
The company’s proven expertise and established infrastructure in areas including clinical operations, regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance, medical information, supply chain as well as providing support in several countries around the world makes it well-positioned to assist in global vaccine efforts against COVID-19.
In a joint press briefing on February 1 that included chief executive officer of CureVac, Franz-Werner Haas, president of the Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals Division, Stefan Oelrich, stated in a news release from the company that it is “planning to add an additional 160 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine in 2022 to further expand their supply network and overall capacity using the manufacturing network of Bayer. First commercial product from this expansion may already be available towards the end of this year.”
Oelrich went on to say that, “Following discussions with the German government it has become clear that current manufacturing capacities for vaccines need to be increased, particularly for potential variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” He added that, “We at Bayer will contribute even further by making more vaccine available to help fight the pandemic.”
CureVac’s under-development COVID-19 candidate is currently in Phase III trials, including a trial being conducted among healthcare workers at the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany. The study, which began in December, aims to enroll more than 2,500 individuals over the age of 18. This complements the global Phase IIb/III HERALD trial of the two-dose CVnCoV vaccine, which includes more than 35,000 participants.
Once approved, CureVac has plans to supply “hundreds of millions” of doses of its COVID-19 shot. The 160 million additional doses from Bayer will add to CureVac’s output.
With respect to the initial partnership struck between Bayer and CureVac in January, Dr. Franz-Werner Haas, chief executive officer of CureVac said in a statement from the company that, “We are very happy to join forces with Bayer, whose expertise and infrastructure will help us make our vaccine candidate CVnCoV even more rapidly available to as many people as possible.”
He added that, “Building on the positive data we have seen so far with CVnCoV, we now also have another strong partner on our side to get the vaccine to the people who need it following the receipt of the requisite regulatory approvals.”
Bayer will assist with all stages of development and manufacturing of CureVac’s vaccine, including R&D, regulatory affairs, supply chain management and potential marketing operations.
“Since the announcement of our alliance between Bayer and CureVac earlier this year, we have diligently assessed our ability to further contribute with end-to-end manufacturing,” Oelrich said in a statement. “I am glad to report today that we have the necessary skills and capabilities at Bayer to manufacture CureVac’s mRNA-based vaccine.”
COVID-19 Continues to Fuel Collaborations with GSK and Sanofi Lending Support
In addition to Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has also joined forces with CureVac in a new almost $180 million collaboration, which builds on their existing relationship to jointly develop next-generation mRNA vaccines for COVID-19. This will also include a multi-valent approach to address emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 through the potential development of one vaccine that’s effective against them all.
The collaboration will also see GSK support the manufacturing of up to 100 million doses of CureVac’s first-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate in 2021.
GSK acquired a roughly ten percent stake in CureVac last year and will have the exclusive rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize the new vaccine in all countries except Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The company says it will make an initial upfront payment of €75 million and a further payment of €75 million (~$89 million) “conditional on the achievement of specific milestones.”
Through the new exclusive co-development agreement, GSK and CureVac say they will contribute resources and expertise to research, develop and manufacture a number of novel mRNA vaccine candidates, including multi-valent and monovalent approaches. The goal of the work is to offer broader protection against different SARS-CoV2 variants that currently exist, or that may crop up in the future.
Towards the end of January, Sanofi announced that it would be partnering with Pfizer to address its vaccine backlog. This announcement came after Sanofi suffered a setback in its own COVID-19 vaccine program as initial trial data showed weak performances of its candidate shot.
As the French drugmaker tries to figure things out on its R&D and clinical testing fronts for its own vaccine, the company is continuing to help fight the pandemic by throwing support behind Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. It has partnered up with them to produce 100 million doses of the duo’s vaccine.
The recent collaborations and partnerships between pharma rivals shows the commitment of the industry to helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic, putting aside competition and their egos for the greater good.