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GSK aims for one billion doses of booster as COVID-19 vaccine race heats up

Pushkala Aripaka, Aakash B and Ludwig Burger
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: A GSK logo is seen at the GSK research centre in Stevenage
FILE PHOTO: A GSK logo is seen at the GSK research centre in Stevenage

By Pushkala Aripaka, Aakash B and Ludwig Burger

(Reuters) - GSK <GSK.L>, the world's largest vaccine maker, laid out plans on Thursday to produce 1 billion doses of vaccine efficacy boosters for COVID-19 shots next year, as the race to develop a successful solution to the coronavirus crisis heats up.

The British drugmaker said it was in talks with governments to back the manufacturing expansion of the boosters, or adjuvants, that would help to scale up production of future vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The adjuvant could be a critical ingredient in at least seven experimental vaccines against the new coronavirus currently being developed around the world, including one by Sanofi <SASY.PA>, with whom GSK signed a collaboration deal in April.

Adjuvants, a key component of the traditional vaccination approach, have been shown to create stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections and allow for lower dosing of the protein in a vaccine, making way for higher-volume production.

GSK would not disclose the programme's costs, saying only that production would take place at sites in Europe and North America and that it would reinvest any profit into coronavirus research and preparation for future pandemics.

The company is one of the many global players working on projects to counter the respiratory illness that currently that has no treatment and has killed about 350,000 people.

"We believe that more than one vaccine will be needed to address this global pandemic and we are working with partners around the world to do so," said GSK Global Vaccines President Roger Connor.

As well as its collaboration with Sanofi, GSK has contributed the adjuvant to alliances involving Chinese biotech firms Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Xiamen Innovax, as well as the University of Queensland, Australia.

GSK shares were up 1.4% at 1,671.2 pence by 0916 GMT.

BOOSTER SHOT

Experts have predicted that a successful vaccine will take more than a year to develop. Companies and governments are pouring money into dozens of programmes as their best hope of allowing an escape from lockdowns and getting economies expanding again.

While more than 100 vaccine candidates are being trialled, according to the World Health Organisation only 10 have moved to testing in humans, a stage where they are investigated for safety and efficacy, and at which most vaccines fail.

(https://bit.ly/36EdwBa)

Other promising vaccine approaches do without adjuvants. These include the use of so-called mRNA, pursued by Moderna <MRNA.O> and Biontech <22UAy.F>, where genetic code is injected into the body to instruct human cells to make virus-like proteins that trigger an immune response.

AstraZeneca <AZN.L> and Oxford University's viral vector approach, where harmless viruses instruct human cells to make virus-like proteins, also needs no adjuvants.

The United States last week secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for AstraZeneca's experimental COVID-19 vaccine by pledging up to $1.2 billion.

On Thursday GSK said that making its adjuvant available to the world's poorest countries will be a key part of its efforts.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, David Goodman and Jan Harvey)