FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is pictured at the French company’s headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison near Paris, France, April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
ZURICH (Reuters) – Novartis’s gene therapy unit AveXis has signed a manufacturing deal to help produce a novel genetic COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by U.S. researchers in Massachusetts, a spokeswoman for the Swiss drugmaker confirmed on Thursday.
Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts Eye and Ear are developing a vaccine candidate that relies on adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector technology to produce immunity. The vaccine is now in preclinical development, they said, but human trials to determine safety and efficacy are expected in 2020.
AveXis, which makes Novartis’s $2.1 million-per-patient gene therapy Zolgensma for the hereditary disease spinal muscular atrophy, is contributing technology, expertise and its manufacturing supply chain at no cost, it said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is the most urgent public health crisis of our time and we recognize the significance of evaluating the potential role of a gene-based vaccine,” said AveXis President Dave Lennon, adding his company’s experience producing one of just two commercial gene therapies on the market makes it “uniquely poised to help the team move quickly toward this accelerated effort.”
The Massachusetts program, called AAVCOVID and run out of a laboratory of Harvard Medical School professor Luk H. Vandenberghe at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, began after initial research papers on the coronavirus outbreak were published in January, Massachusetts General Hospital said.
“By partnering with an industry leader in AveXis that already produces… gene therapy products at large scales, we are more on track than ever to reaching our goal of developing a vaccine capable for wide distribution to prevent infection at population levels,” Vandenberghe said in the statement.