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Brief: Canada approves world’s first plant-based Covid-19 vaccine

February 25, 2022

  • Canadian regulators have approved Covifenz, the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine developed using plant-protein technology. Local biopharma company Medicago developed the vaccine.
  • In Covifenz, plant-derived, non-infectious particles mimic the virus while an adjuvant — developed by pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline — boosts the immune system response.
  • The two-shot dose, approved for adults aged 18 to 64, was found to be 71% effective in clinical trials against Delta and Gamma variants of the virus. It also has some efficacy against the Omicron variant, for which Medicago is developing another version of its shot.

Why it matters:

There’s significant potential for plant-protein technologies in the production of vaccines, particularly when it comes to speeding up production times and staving off infectious disease.

Nathalie Charland, Medicago’s senior director of scientific and medical affairs, recently told the journal Nature: “Compared to alternative production systems [such as cell- or egg-based proteins], our proprietary plant-based manufacturing platform has many advantages, including faster lead time, scalability, and versatility.”

This streamlined production process could enable the world to respond faster to infectious disease in the future. Given that some research suggests we’re in danger of incubating the next pandemic, speed seems a critical factor to leverage. Faster response times could in theory contain health threats and outbreaks before they become global pandemics.

Covifenz is the sixth Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in Canada. The country signed a deal to buy 20 million doses of Medicago’s vaccine in October and has the option to purchase 56 million more.

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