CureVac, a Germany-based pharmaceutical company, has been developing its mRNA-based vaccine candidate against COVID-19.
Less than a year after the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the first COVID-19 vaccines have started to be administered around the world with more than 216 million doses given so far. Together with masks and physical distancing, vaccines have proven to be the most effective tool against the virus, including resistance to new variants.
CureVac claims on their website that the vaccine, also known as CVnCOV, follows the principles of safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness. Crucially, the vaccine also requires far less mRNA in each shot than other, currently approved, mRNA vaccines.
“While Moderna [vaccine] uses 100 micrograms [of mRNA] per shot in two shots, about three-four weeks apart, Pfizer/BioNTech [vaccine] uses 30 micrograms per shot some four weeks apart, the CureVac vaccine uses 12 micrograms per shot for two shots, four weeks apart,” said Peter Kremsner, professor of immunology at the University of Tubingen, to Al Arabiya English.
On February 12, CureVac initiated the rolling review submission with the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
The vaccine has been developed in partnership with the German pharmaceutical giant, Bayer, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI).
The vaccine is currently undergoing the final phase of clinical trials.
Explainer: CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine
The vaccine uses unmodified, natural mRNA, allowing it to induce high levels of protein protection in the cells with low mRNA doses, according to CureVac’s official website.
Another key characteristic of the vaccine is its ease of storage.
“The CureVac vaccine is very similar to the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, as the s-antigen and the same mRNA sequence are used, the same lipid nano-particles as well,” added Kremsner. “But it uses less mRNA to [achieve the same effect.]”
According to CureVac, the vaccine remains stable and within defined specifications for at least three months when stored at a standard refrigerator temperature of five degrees Celsius, and for up to 24 hours as ready-to-use vaccine when stored at room temperature.
“When it comes to storage, all vaccines have to be stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius,” said Kremsner. “For the CureVac vaccine, I believe it can be stored at much higher temperature, including regular refrigeration or even room temperature, before usage but it is still under testing.”
Participants from several countries have been vaccinated as a part of the vaccine’s third phase of clinical trials, including Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Mexico, among others.
“I believe we should have the [vaccine] efficacy data by late April,” added Kremsner.
Plans for next generation CureVac vaccine to be rolled out in 2022
Three types of mRNA technology are available for use in vaccine development, including the traditional, base-modified and the self-amplifying type.
Only the traditional type has been used in COVID-19 vaccines.
According to a study published in the Gene Therapy Journal in October 2020, self-amplifying RNAs have shown enhanced antigen expression at lower doses compared to conventional mRNA, suggesting this technology may improve immunization.
Currently undergoing the last phase of clinical trials across two continents, CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine is not based on the self-amplifying mRNA technology.
However, there are discussions to make the next version with such technology in order to be able to address multiple strains of the virus in one shot.
The British-based pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has been investing in the self-amplifying mRNA technology for years, and recently announced a partnership with CureVac.
“Our aim with CureVac is to develop next-generation mRNA vaccines with the potential to offer broader protection against a variety of different SARS-CoV2 variants as multi-valent vaccines, which could also enable a timely response to new variants potentially emerging in the future,” Dr Averyan Vasylyev, Medical Director, Gulf at GSK told Al Arabiya English.
According to GSK, the development program will begin immediately, with the target of introducing the vaccine in 2022, subject to regulatory approval.
“The aim of this work is to offer broader protection against a variety of different SARS-CoV2 variants, and to enable a quick response to new variants potentially emerging in the future,” concluded Vasylyev.