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Why GlaxoSmithKline could bid for Astra's vaccine
With AstraZeneca (AZN) grabbing all the Covid-19 headlines, sometimes for the wrong reasons, it’s easy to forget that the UK’s largest vaccine maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is also in the Covid vaccine race and has been collaborating with several companies.
And given AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot has said he hasn’t decided what to do with its vaccine in the long term and that the company hasn’t traditionally specialised in this area, the tantalising prospect of a blockbuster deal with Glaxo for its vaccines arm seems a realistic scenario.
In July 2020 the UK government secured access to 60 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine GSK is already developing with French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, which recently started the final phase III clinical trials.
Glaxo also agreed a $2.1 billion deal to produce 100 million doses for the US government. The results from the trial are expected by the fourth quarter of 2021. The two companies have said that if successful they will be able to produce more than a billion doses.
Glaxo is known for its adjuvant technology which enhances the immune response, potentially creating a stronger and longer lasting immunity.
It also means more doses can be produced from fewer ingredients and therefore the vaccine can be manufactured at scale. For its part Sanofi is contributing its S-protein Covid-19 antigen based on its recombinant DNA technology. (bringing together genetic material from different sources).
Glaxo’s adjuvant technology is being used in partnerships with SK Bioscience of South Korea and Medicago of Canada, with the latter is now in late stage trials.
Glaxo has expanded its collaboration with CureVac of Germany to develop the next generation of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines which could address multiple variants in a single vaccine.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are based on mRNA technology which creates the genetic blueprint of the virus, enabling the body to recognise the virus threat.
Glaxo is supporting the manufacture of up to a million doses of CureVac’s first generation vaccine which is in late stage trials. In July 2020 Glaxo invested £130 million in CureVac, an investment which today is worth €1.38 billion, making Glaxo the third largest shareholder.
On 26 May Glaxo and Nasdaq listed Vir Biotechnology announced their Covid-19 antibody drug sotrovimab received emergency use approval from the US Food and Drug agency.
The treatment reduces the risk of hospitalisation and death by 85% in high risk adults and will be available in the US in coming weeks while the company is in discussions with other regulatory bodies.
Glaxo has fingers in many pies and could yet win the long game if its Covid-19 vaccine proves more effective against variants and provides longer lasting immunity.