First Plant-Based COVID Vaccine Receives Approval. Would You Take It?
Since the onset of the pandemic, there's been a discussion about whether the COVID-19 vaccines can be considered vegan. While most vaccines avoid animal-derived ingredients, several vaccines including Pfizer have been tested on animals during the initial developmental phases. Now, Canadians can know for sure that their vaccine is fully plant-based. This week, the world’s first plant-based COVID-19 vaccine – the COVIDENZ – just received regulatory approval for public use across Canada.
Quebec City-based biotechnology company Medicago Inc. worked closely with the British Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to develop the innovative plant-based vaccine. The two companies worked together to develop a new production method that would avoid using an actual virus, eggs, or other animal-based ingredients to create the vaccine dose. The result is a fully vegan coronavirus vaccine created with proprietary plant-based protein technology.
What makes a vaccine plant-based?
To create the plant-based vaccine, Medicago uses live plants to produce virus-like particles that are manipulated to replicate the genetic structure of COVID-19. The plants act as bioreactors, removing the need to incorporate animal-based or live viruses during vaccine development. The revolutionary vaccine is a major victory for both plant-based Canadians and the Canadian biotech sector.
“As one of our government's top priorities has been to reverse the 40-year decline faced by Canada’s biomanufacturing sector, we are pleased to see Medicago’s vaccine approval,” Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry Francois-Phillippe Champagne said. “It is a great milestone for Canada’s biotechnology sector and for homegrown innovation. We will continue to support companies that want to produce vaccines in Canada and join the growing national biomanufacturing sector.”
Is a plant-based vaccine just as effective?
With doubts about COVID-19 vaccines circulating now more than ever, people will be increasingly skeptical of new vaccines. In order to prepare for this doubt, GSK and Medicago conducted a study involving 24,000 adults across six countries to test the durability of the new vaccine. The study found that the plant-based vaccine is 71 percent effective against COVID-19 and 75.3 percent effective against the Delta variants.
“The approval of our COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone for Canada in the fight against the pandemic,” President and CEO at Medicago Takashi Nagao said.
Medicago’s plant-based vaccine is the product of nearly 20 years of technological development. The plant protein technology allows Medicago to accurately reproduce virus-like structures in order to reduce the need for live testing. The virus-like particles mimic the structure of real viruses, giving vaccine developers and scientists virtually identical genetic structures to work with. The company guarantees that the virus-like particles are then easily recognized by the immune system, ensuring its effectiveness.
Alongside the plant protein technology, Medicago will be using an immune-boosting chemical produced by GSK known as an adjacent. GSK’s adjuvant has been added to several other medicines in the past to improve the potency of vaccines. For Medicago’s new shot, the adjuvant will be added to the shots to help invigorate the immune system.
“This first approval is an important milestone in our approach of pairing GSK’s well-established pandemic adjuvant with promising antigens to develop protein-based, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccines,” President of GSK Vaccines Roger Connor said.
The virus-like method also allows the COVIFENZ to be stored at normal refrigeration conditions (between 35.6º to 46.4º Fahrenheit), allowing for easy distribution across Canada. The two-shot dose has been cleared for adults between the ages of 18-64 years old, alongside a subsequent booster shot.