Novartis Offshoot in Covid Vaccine Agreement

03.06.2020 -

Novartis's gene therapy unit AveXis has signed an agreement to produce a novel genetic COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the US-based Mass General Brigham health care system.

AveXis will contribute its technology, expertise and supply chain free of charge to make a vaccine for animal studies and a phase 1 clinical trial, the US biotech’s president Dave Lennon said in a statement issued by Mass General.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the most urgent public health crisis of our time and we recognize the significance of evaluating the potential role of a gene-based vaccine,” Lennon said.

Viralgen, a gene therapy manufacturer based in Spain, has also agreed to make a supply of the vaccine candidate for use in clinical trials.

Phase 1 testing is expected involve 50 to 60 people, and AveXis has the option to manufacture larger quantities of vaccine for a larger human study and for eventual commercialization, should the vaccine progress to those stages.

Currently, the gene specialist has the capacity to produce only a few million doses of vaccine annually, but if the trials are successful, product could be made available on an emergency basis by the end of 2020, said Mason Freeman, director and founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital Translational Research Center.

AveXis’s vaccine would use an inactive virus to deliver DNA into the body, where it would teach cells how to make the “spike protein” found on the surface of the new coronavirus. Researchers hope that this would trigger an immune response to the virus that will protect against it.

Even if there are as yet no approved vaccine against any illness that work like a gene therapy, the company calculates that using a proven DNA delivery method could give its candidate a head start, as most of the handful of approved gene therapies use viruses from the same family.

AveXis, which specializes in treatments for rare neurological genetic disorders, was founded in 2015 and acquired by Novartis in 2018 for $8.7 billion. The company makes Zolgensma, one of the few gene therapies currently available in the US.