Niche vaccine player Valneva, U.K. tie up in coronavirus R&D and manufacturing deal

COVID-19 frontrunners have been inking deals with governments and others to supply vaccines if their programs succeed, and now niche player Valneva is getting involved. 

Valneva on Monday said it reached an agreement in principle with the U.K. government to supply up to 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate, which will be produced in Scotland. An inactivated whole virus vaccine, the candidate uses the same platform as Ixiaro, Valneva’s FDA-approved vaccine for protection against Japanese encephalitis. 

Under the deal, the U.K. government is expected to help fund clinical studies, and the partners are discussing funding for an expansion to Valneva’s site in Scotland, the biotech says. For its part, Valneva plans investments at its Scottish site and another factory in Sweden. 

The deal “recognizes the strong track record and capabilities that we have built in the last fifteen years both in the U.K. and beyond,” CEO Thomas Lingelbach said in a statement. The company anticipates “manufacturing vaccines to support the need for prevention of COVID-19 beyond the U.K.,” he added. 

Valneva unveiled its COVID-19 vaccine program back in April, but it hasn’t made as many headlines as frontrunners in the race such as Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. The company, based in France, has partnered with Dynavax to explore that biotech’s adjuvant in conjunction with its vaccine candidate.

Aside from Ixiaro, Valneva also markets a cholera vaccine called Dukoral. The company says its business model is "based on valuable commercial and R&D assets in important, high-value niches."

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Valneva plans to enter human testing by the end of this year and possibly score approvals in the second half of 2021. That timeline would put the company behind expectations for some of the speediest programs in the COVID-19 vaccine race. Some companies are pressing into late-stage testing this month or this fall, in hopes of starting commercial vaccinations in late 2020 or early 2021. 

Valneva’s deal announcement came the same day as partners Pfizer and BioNTech inked a deal to supply 30 million doses of their candidate to the U.K. over the next 2 years. The U.K. has separately reached a deal with AstraZeneca for 30 million doses.