The vaccine biotech firm Medicago (TSX:MDG) has developed technology that can turn tobacco leaves into vaccines quickly and inexpensively, and its new North Carolina site stands ready for influenza vaccine production.
But when Medicago unveiled its new Research Triangle Park facility last November amid great fanfare, CEO Andew Sheldon said he couldn’t disclose Medicago’s other vaccine targets.
We now know at least one of them: rabies.
Quebec, Canada-based Medicago has completed initial studies that move the company toward a new vaccine for rabies. The company could start clinical trials of the rabies vaccine candidate later this year.
“The rabies virus is a significant problem, particularly in Asia, where current vaccines present challenges to access due to availability and cost, which we believe our VLP (virus-like particle) vaccine could address,” Sheldon said in a statement. “We see significant potential for our technologies in the development of VLP vaccines and biosimilars.”
Medicago’s proprietary vaccine technology makes virus-like particles from tobacco leaves. These VLPs mimic the structure of a virus, prompting an immune response from the body. But because the particles are not the actual virus, they cannot infect people and they are unable to replicate. Medicago’s RTP plant can turn a tobacco leaf into a vaccine in about 30 days, much faster than traditional methods of incubating virus in chicken eggs, a process that takes about six months.
According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes approximately 55,000 deaths annually, primarily in Asia and Africa.Rabies vaccines produced in cell culture are currently available, but Medicago says there is limited access for such vaccines in many geographic areas and they can be cost prohibitive.
Medicago last month closed on $11 million in financing, the second traunche of a $22.5 million investment from Philip Morris (NYSE:PM). Medicago said that the money would be used for flu vaccine development as well as development of other pipeline vaccine candidates.
Medicago expects to start a phase 2a clinical trial for trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine. A phase 1 trial for a one-dose H5N1 VLP vaccine is planned for the second quarter of this year, a trial that is being done in partnership with the nonprofit Infectious Disease Research Institute. Medicago plans to move the rabies vaccine candidate into phase 1 clinical studies later this year following some additional preparatory work.