Science

Quebec’s Medicago COVID-19 vaccine approved for use by Health Canada

The first made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccine, which is also the first plant-based vaccine, has been officially approved by Health Canada.

The unique formulation by Quebec City-based Medicago appeared Thursday morning in the federal agency’s list of federally approved vaccines. Health Canada later put out a statement explaining its findings.

The company’s vaccine is known as Covifenz, and a two-dose regimen has been authorized for use in people aged 18 to 64.

The clinical trials showed the Medicago vaccine was “71 per cent effective against symptomatic infection and 100 per cent effective against severe disease caused by COVID-19,” Health Canada wrote.

In a news release, Medicago said it’s already working on manufacturing and distribution to fulfill its home country’s order.

“We appreciate Health Canada’s timely review,” said CEO Takashi Nagao, also thanking the government for its support in developing the vaccine.

In a $173 million funding deal announced in 2020, Medicago got federal help to develop the vaccine, and Ottawa bought the rights to 76 million doses of the vaccine if it were to be approved for use.

The company submitted its Phase 3 trial data to federal authorities on Dec. 16. After announcing earlier in the month that its trial had showed good success and no adverse reactions.

The vaccine was tested in over 24,000 subjects aged 18 and up across six countries.

Because it was developed later than the other vaccines, it had the chance to be tested against several different variants.

“These studies were conducted while there were multiple variants in circulation. The data suggest efficacy against multiple variants, including Delta,” wrote Health Canada.

Data also suggests it’s effective against three other variants, and also, with less certainty, againt Omicron, though “additional confirmatory data are needed.”

It was difficult to adequately test the vaccine in people over 65, Health Canada noted, “because a large proportion of older individuals were already vaccinated.” Medicago is working on collecting a big enough group of elderly test subjects.

USING LEAFY GREENS

The company has a unique approach to growing vaccines, using plant proteins to do so.

Most vaccines are made by growing live viruses in “primary cells,” which have traditionally been chicken eggs but can also be chicken embryos, yeast, bacteria or cell cultures. The viruses are then killed and split for use in the vaccine.

Medicago’s website shows huge greenhouses filled with lettuce-like plants, saying it uses them as “mini protein factories.”

The plants are used to grow a similar viral cell to the ones animals can provide, using “living plants as bioreactors to produce a non-infectious particle that mimics the target virus, without the use of any live viruses,” says the company.

GlaxoSmithKline, the company’s partner in the vaccine, called Thursday’s approval “an important milestone” on the scientific front, allowing the pharmaceutical giant to “develop protein-based, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccines.”

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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