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Advances made on COVID-19 vaccine

24 Mar 2020. Medicago, a Canadian biopharmaceutical company partially owned by Philip Morris International, has made significant progress on a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a PMI press release.

Medicago is using a virus-like particle (VLP) which is grown in Nicotiana Benthamiana, a close relative of the tobacco plant, to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The company, which is partially funded by PMI, has announced it is ready to begin preclinical testing for safety and efficacy and estimates that human trials will be able to begin later this summer.

According to the press release, Medicago focuses on plant-based technology, which uses particles similar to viruses, rather than focusing on animal products or live viruses. The advantage of this is that VLPs mimic viruses. The body’s immune system then recognises them and this triggers an immune response, but because there is no core genetic material in a VLP, they are not infectious and will not replicate. This enables the company to mass-produce therapies which can counter act a pandemic, like COVID-19, within a very short amount of time.

In addition to a COVID-19 virus, Medicago has also developed a seasonal flu vaccine, which is currently under review by Health Canada, and is working on developing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. This is being developed in conjunction with Laval University’s Infectious Disease Centre and these antibodies could potentially be used to help treat those infected with coronavirus. PMI acquired a stake in Medicago in 2013 and currently owns around one third of the company’s shares.