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COVID vaccine production: BE ties up with J&J arm, Baylor College of Medicine

The development may put BE right behind Serum Institute of India as a potential global supplier of Covid-19 vaccines.

Hyderabad-headquartered Biological E (BE) on Thursday announced agreements to aid in manufacturing two Covid-19 vaccine candidates–one developed by drug giant Johnson and Johnson’s arm and the other by Houson-based academic institution Baylor College of Medicine. If the candidates are successful, the firm may be able to rapidly scale up production of at least one of these candidates to make “several hundred million” doses.

The development may put BE right behind Pune-headquartered Serum Institute of India as a potential global supplier of Covid-19 vaccines. The firm is the second to announce a manufacturing agreement with a large global drugmaker in the ongoing race to find a shot against the contagious virus.

BE, through its agreement with J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, will manufacture an undisclosed quantity of the “drug substance” and “drug product” used to make the adenovirus vaccine candidate developed by the Belgium headquartered firm. This candidate, which uses a similar approach to the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, has already moved into early stage human clinical trials. It is unclear whether BE already has the capabilities to manufacture this type of vaccine or whether it will be upgrading its facilities to do so.

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As part of its agreement with Baylor College of Medicine, Biological E has received the licence to “further” develop and scale up manufacturing of the academic institution’s recombinant protein vaccine. This means that BE will help conduct human trials for the vaccine candidate in India, according to Dr Peter Hotez, Professor and Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

“We look forward to leveraging our capabilities for the development and manufacturing of this much needed vaccine. If the vaccine development is successful, we expect to make several hundred million doses of the vaccine available annually,” said Narender Dev Mantena, director of BioE Holdings Inc and who heads BE’s novel vaccine initiative.

The firm intends to initiate phase I clinical trials anytime between September and October, according to Hotez. Queries to Biological E about this as well as its capacity to manufacture the recombinant protein and the adenovirus vaccines were unanswered by press time Thursday.

“Our vaccine uses the same technology used to make the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine that’s made in India, Indonesia and elsewhere. Biological E says that they have the capacity to manufacture about a billion doses a year, so that’s pretty exciting, because it means the vaccine could be produced not only for India but also globally,” Hotez told The Indian Express.

“There’s going to be a huge need for access to Covid-19 vaccines that would not be met with some of the other high-tech vaccines and, even though this is an older technology, we believe it will work just as well or better than the newer technologies,” he said. “The fact that it’s an established technology, the fact that it can be scaled like the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine gives me cause for a lot of optimism that this could be very suitable as a vaccine specifically designed for global health and for low- and middle-income countries,” he added.

This type of vaccine, which uses a “proven” yeast-based expression technology, can be produced for “as low as” $1-2, according to Hotez. “If we could do that for something like this, it would be amazing, because the others are going to be quite expensive,” he said

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