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Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

The quest for a coronavirus vaccine has moved from “if” to “when,” with a Quebec City-based company announcing “very promising results” in Phase 1 clinical trials.

Medicago’s report comes on the heels of the announcement from U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech of preliminary results in Phase 3 human trials of a vaccine that proved more than 90 per cent effective in producing an immune response.

Medicago CEO Bruce Clark said in a statement, “The positive results of our Phase 1 clinical trial are a step forward in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and we are confidently moving forward to our Phase 2/3 trial.

“We’re pleased that Medicago’s innovative manufacturing technology is helping to diversify the classes of COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development.”

The federal government has pre-ordered 76 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is already being produced in large quantities in anticipation of final approval. The complication with the Pfizer vaccine is that it needs to be stored at an extremely low temperature, about -70 C, before being used.

This looming scenario has prompted a scramble to determine the availability of medical freezers able to meet the potential demand.

Storage temperature would not be such a critical issue for Medicago’s plant-based vaccine, called CovLP, of which the federal government has also reserved 76 million doses. Medicago’s serum had a 100 per cent success rate in stimulating antibodies in clinical trials involving 180 people given two doses.

In its announcement on Nov. 10, Medicago said the “ CoVLP finished product is a liquid formulation that can be stored at 2 C to 8 C, easing cold chain management with existing vaccine infrastructure.”

Medicago says Phase 3 trials will begin before the end of the year, requiring 30,000 subjects in “North America, Latin America and/or Europe” in a “randomized, placebo-controlled design.”

Medicago’s vaccine is one of an estimated 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development around the world. The company says it would be capable of producing up to 100 million doses by the end of 2021, with the priority for distribution being Canadians.

Medicago, owned by Japanese Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma and American tobacco giant Philip Morris, is building a $245 million complex in the Beauport area of Quebec City. It also has a facility in North Carolina. It is one of several Canadian-based companies receiving some $600 million in federal funding to develop a vaccine against COVID-19.

Photo from Medicago website

Medicago CEO Bruce Clark is pleased with the progress of the company’s vaccine.

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