GlaxoSmithKline aims to make 1B doses of vaccine booster for multiple COVID-19 partners

GSK
GlaxoSmithKline said it will make 1 billion doses of its AS03 vaccine adjuvant in 2021 for use in multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates. (Eric Sagonowsky)

GlaxoSmithKline has penned deals offering its pandemic vaccine adjuvant to several developers of COVID-19 shots. And it needs to amp up supply for those companies to make enough doses of their final products.

Now, the British pharma said it will make 1 billion doses of the adjuvant, dubbed AS03, in 2021 for use in multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

Theoretically, the adjuvant can increase the body’s immune response to the vaccine component it’s paired with, reducing the amount of vaccine needed for each shot and allowing manufacturers to make more doses.

The AS03 adjuvant was used in GSK’s H1N1 swine flu vaccine Pandemrix during the 2009-10 pandemic. The company soon found itself embroiled in a suspected safety problem: Use of the adjuvanted shot was allegedly linked to increased incidence of narcolepsy in children, especially in countries in the northern parts of the world such as Finland and Sweden.

In a statement, the company said the narcolepsy cases were “triggered by the body confusing a protein in the wild type H1N1 flu virus with a human protein relevant in regulating the sleep cycle,” according to Reuters. Because H1N1 itself was the culprit, not the adjuvant, “it is highly unlikely that there would be any implications for a future COVID-19 vaccine,” the company added.

GSK has agreed to provide its AS03 adjuvant to several vaccine hopefuls. It’s offering the product to China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Innovax Biotech in the city of Xiamen, for two. The company has also agreed to make the technology available to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations for the international group’s supported programs, including one at the University of Queensland in Australia.

RELATED: Multiple COVID-19 vaccines? That's what it could take, GSK CEO Walmsley says

But perhaps most importantly, it’s in a tie-up with fellow vaccines giant Sanofi to work on an adjuvanted recombinant DNA shot. The French pharma itself has announced plans to make 1 billion doses if the candidate proves efficacious.

“We believe that more than one vaccine will be needed to address this global pandemic, and we are working with partners around the world to do so,” GSK’s vaccines chief Roger Connor said in a statement Thursday. “We believe that our innovative pandemic adjuvant technology has the potential to help improve the efficacy and scale-up of multiple COVID-19 vaccines.”

Because none of those candidates is a sure thing, GSK is producing the adjuvant “at risk.” The company said it’s in talks with governments and global institutions about financial support.

Overall, GSK said it doesn’t expect to profit from sales of all the COVID-19 vaccines it’s supporting during the pandemic, as it will reinvest whatever profit toward coronavirus-related research and long-term pandemic preparedness.

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