For years, oral vaccine maker Vaxart toiled in obscurity in its quest to bring tablet vaccines to market in a challenge to some major competitors. The COVID-19 pandemic gave Vaxart a shot in the arm, and now the biotech is boosting its manufacturing to capitalize on investors' renewed interest.
South San Francisco-based Vaxart has signed a deal with Bay Area neighbor Kindred Bio to ramp up "commercial-scale" manufacturing of the former's oral vaccine candidates for COVID-19 and other viruses, the partners said Wednesday.
Kindred Bio will handle the bulk drug substance manufacturing through its Centaur Biopharmaceutical Services subsidiary, working at plants in California and Kansas, Kindred said in a release. The Kansas site holds 2,000 liters of single-use bioreactor capacity that will be dedicated to Vaxart's candidate.
Vaxart is currently awaiting results from two animal studies of its oral candidate in hamsters and primates and began enrolling patients in a phase 1 human trial late last month. The vaccine maker expects animal data to start reading out this month.
Vaxart's tie-up with San Francisco-based Kindred comes as the biotech looks to catch up with other drugmakers in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine. The company's oral formulation is unique among most of its larger competitors.
Back in March, Vaxart reached a deal with Maryland CDMO Emergent BioSolutions to provide manufacturing muscle to Vaxart's candidate, which then was only weeks into development.
Emergent won a whopping $628 million deal with the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in June to help scale up manufacturing for a range of COVID-19 hopefuls, including Vaxart's.
The deal hoped to scale production to make "tens to hundreds of millions" of doses available through 2021, Emergent said.
Vaxart, the product of a merger with Aviragen back in October 2017, is also pursuing oral vaccine formulations for influenza, norovirus, RSV and HPV.
In October 2018, Vaxart released data from a phase 2 challenge trial showing its oral flu vaccine tablet provided a 39% reduction in flu cases compared with placebo, versus a 27% reduction for Sanofi's market-leading Fluzone over placebo.
Despite those promising data, Vaxart sat in relative obscurity for years with little investor interest. To start 2020, the biotech's share price hung at just around 30 cents per share before skyrocketing in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic to $15.75 per share. As of Wednesday's closing, the company's shares sat at $6.98.