A Gaithersburg drug company has received $4 million in funding from a nongovernmental organization to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and is teaming with another Gaithersburg drug company for development and manufacturing.
Novavax Inc. received $4 million in initial funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an international partnership between governments, private industries and philanthropic and civil groups. The company has contracted with Emergent BioSolutions Inc. to develop and manufacture a new experimental vaccine candidate for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Syed T. Husain, senior vice president and head of contract development and manufacturing at Emergent, told The Daily Record that the partnership is an opportunity for the company to support a fellow innovator. The two companies’ locations near each other was a factor in the partnership, he added.
“The proximity definitely aided the ability for rapid face-to-face discussions between the technical teams, alignment and then ultimately getting a partnership done,” Husain said.
Richard Bendis, the president and CEO of Biohealth Innovation, which facilitates innovation in the region, said the two companies are part of an emerging cluster of vaccine companies in the region. Bendis noted that Altimmune, also in Gaithersburg, and GlaxoSmithKline, which has the North American headquarters for its vaccine division in Rockville, are also working on COVID-19 vaccine research.
Companies working on vaccines in Maryland see benefit from being near the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, for research, the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak, for regulatory approval, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore, for pricing.
“It’s a really unique element of our ecosystem to have all of these resources in our backyard,” Bendis said.
COVID-19 is a disease that can cause severe pneumonia-like symptoms. People at highest risk for getting very sick from it include older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also advises that some spread of the disease might be possible before people show symptoms, but people are thought to be most contagious while they are the sickest.
Novavax and CEPI are in talks about additional funding to last through early clinical trials in humans, which the company expects to begin in late spring.
Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, said in a statement that the $4 million helped bridge a funding gap for the company.
“This first stage of funding from CEPI is critical to enable ongoing development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidates,” Erck said. ” Novavax is working tirelessly to create a vaccine against this growing epidemic.”
Robert G. Kramer Sr., president and CEO of Emergent BioSolutions, said in a statement he was pleased with the collaboration.
“The increasing threat of COVID-19 requires a comprehensive response, and we continue to evaluate various vaccine, therapeutic, and (contract development and manufacturing) approaches to enable us to marshal resources to make a meaningful impact on this global public health emergency,” Kramer said.
Novavax is already testing multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates in animals in anticipation of advancing to research in humans. The company says it used its proprietary recombinant protein nanoparticle technology to develop the vaccine candidates and expects to use one of its drugs, Matrix-M, to enhance immune responses.
Emergent will supply Novavax with vaccine product for preclinical testing and for a phase 1 trial in humans. The deal lets Novavax use Emergent’s scalability and capacity to make vaccine products for future stockpiling.
Emergent will make biologics for the vaccine at its Bayview facility in Baltimore and make the finished dosage form of the vaccine at its Camden facility, also in Baltimore.
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