German vaccine maker CureVac has lost some shine in the race for a COVID-19 shot after other mRNA-based hopefuls have captured regulators' attention. Even so, CureVac has reportedly snared a big partner to help build its game-changing RNA "printers" that could turn global interest back in its favor.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that the electric carmaker had signed on with CureVac to make portable molecular RNA printers—what Musk appeared to refer to as "RNA microfactories"—to help produce doses of the German vaccine maker's COVID-19 shot candidate.
Musk said his company was working on the printers as a "side project" and could take on additional partners in the future.
Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 2, 2020
CureVac has previously touted its work on portable "printers" for its mRNA-based vaccines, which would allow the company to produce shots at scale in farflung locations without the standard logistical concerns.
In February 2019, CureVac received a $34 million, three-year grant from the Coalition for Emergency Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop its proprietary RNA printer prototype to churn out mRNA vaccine candidates for Lassa fever, yellow fever and rabies.
CureVac's printers are designed to quickly create mRNA vaccine candidates against known pathogens, plus new and unknown diseases, a category the World Health Organization calls “Disease X.”
After preclinical work, the partners aim to advance two vaccine candidates against named diseases into phase 1 testing. Along the way, CureVac will continue collaborating with its existing partners, including the University of Wisconsin.
CureVac says its mRNA vaccine candidates direct cells to make proteins or antigens against various diseases. The platform encapsulates mRNA in a shell of lipid nanoparticles to protect it for delivery. The RNA printer itself—essentially a vaccine production device—can make “more than a hundred thousand doses” in a couple of weeks, the biotech says. It could work in a hospital pharmacy to help produce personalized medicines, for instance, as well as in outbreak regions.
If successful, the printers could also be used for CureVac's COVID-19 shot candidate, CVnCoV, which received German and Belgian regulatory clearance to enter phase 1 human testing in mid-June.
The start of the 168-subject study comes days after the German government invested $337 million in CureVac to support its efforts to develop and manufacture a vaccine against the coronavirus.
The phase 1 dose-escalation study, which was set to start “promptly,” aims to enroll 168 people aged 18 to 60 years. Participants will receive doses of CVnCoV ranging from 2 micrograms to 8 micrograms to determine the optimal dose of the vaccine and assess its safety and immune profile. Moderna, the biotech with the most advanced mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, selected 100 micrograms as the dose for its phase 3 clinical trial.
Another mRNA-based COVID-19 shot from Pfizer and BioNTech reported pre-print data from a 45-patient phase 1/2 trial earlier this week showing its vaccine successfully produced antibodies against the virus.