Medicago says coronavirus vaccine could be ready for human trial by July

Stephanie Hughes
Financial Journalist
Medicago says coronavirus vaccine could be ready for human trial by July

One of the companies on Ottawa’s list for $192 million vaccine development funding still does not know how much it will receive from the federal government, but says the money will help push its vaccine development from early testing to full clinical trials. Medicago, a private Quebec-based biotech company, says it has already received $7 million from the government of Quebec.

In an e-mail to Yahoo Finance Canada, Medicago’s chief financial officer Mike Warner explained the funding would be used for pre-clinical and human trials and to “expand laboratory space ... so that substantial quantities of the vaccine can be produced and delivered for the population.”

A press release from last week explained that the government funding would help push their team from pre-clinical testing to full clinical trials.

Medicago successfully produced the virus-like particle in COVID-19, an essential first step in creating a vaccine. This isn’t the company’s first shot at curbing pandemics. They developed a vaccine for H1N1 in 2009.

The company works with plant-based treatments to target virus contamination and limit its mutation. Human trials for the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to roll out by July or August, and Medicago is aiming to have a development program submitted to authorities by November 2021.

Other funding recipients include the Vancouver-based company, AbCellera. Its team uses advanced computers, lab technology and artificial intelligence to scan blood samples of patients who have recently recovered from COVID-19, to identify and isolate antibodies to treat and prevent the virus.

The University of Saskatchewan also received $23 million in federal funding for its Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac). The team behind that vaccine stated human testing could begin as early as this fall.

In the past, Canadian investments in biotech have largely focused on the public sector through universities and hospitals. There has been less project financing in the private sector in recent years. A report by Deloitte highlighted that 66 per cent of Canadian firms received less than $1 million in venture capital.

Natasha Crowcoft, a professor in epidemiology at the University of Toronto, explained why investors can have an aversion to the market.

“It’s a really expensive business of preparing a vaccine from the stage they’re at to the candidate virus-like particle. It’s a very high risk investment.”

Crowcoft added that government funding for vaccines was largely focused in universities and public institutions as an investment in the sciences in general. She says the government’s investment could take some of the risk off of companies like Medicago.

While cases of the coronavirus were ramping up, a handful of North American biotech companies like Moderna (MRNA), Gilead Sciences (GILD), Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) saw a short-term stock market boost as they announced plans to develop vaccines. Whether they are the first to develop a successful vaccine or not, the other coronavirus-fighting clinical products that these companies produce meet some increased demand for medical supplies.

Crowcroft believes it’s far too soon to put a timeline on a successful COVID-19 vaccine, though she wants people to be optimistic. “This pandemic is happening at a time where science has never been before,” Crowcoft explained, “For Medicago to say that it took 20 days for it to have its candidate vaccine produced, that’s incredible.”