GSK in quest to be best, not first, in race for COVID-19 vaccine

By Ludwig Burger
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The leaders in the race for experimental immunizations against the novel coronavirus lack a remarkable name: the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline.
And that's absolutely fine, said British Group's chief medical officer for vaccines, Thomas Breuer, who says the company prefers the slow and steady approach of focusing on an established technology that has the best chance of being as broad as possible To reach population group.
Moderna, the University of Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca and an alliance between BioNTech and Pfizer made headlines in March when they switched to human studies.
GSK, which works in seven collaborations with institutions or companies worldwide, only entered the clinical trial phase on Friday with one project.
"We want to be best in class, and if others are a little faster, I will congratulate them because they may be able to take care of healthcare workers in selected countries, but the world needs billions of doses and we will contribute to that effort." Breuer told Reuters.
GSK aims to contribute a so-called adjuvant, an efficacy enhancer that is combined with more traditional vaccines, while the most advanced competitive projects use novel genetic technologies and have been accelerated by preclinical testing in laboratories and on animals.
Breuer said that later developed vaccines and adjuvant technology could have longer or better efficacy, especially in the elderly. As an example, he cited GSK's bestseller Shingrix, a shingles vaccine with an adjuvant for the elderly, that quickly replaced an established competitor.
The company planned to produce 1 billion doses of COVID-19 syringe enhancers next year in May, compared to approximately 700 million doses of vaccine for a number of diseases that typically occur in a year.
According to Breuer, the development of a variety of partnerships was GSK's response to minimizing the risk of failure and enabled GSK to concentrate resources on its most promising technology against COVID-19, although genetic vaccines had been worked on previously.
"The best thing GSK can offer is to make the adjuvant available to more than one company. We wanted to showcase our technology to get multiple shots on goal," he said.
The group's CEO, Emma Walmsley, said in April that vaccination that works and is available for most people is unlikely to occur until the second half of next year.
Operation Warp Speed, an American initiative to develop a vaccine shot, plans to have a vaccine available by January 2021.
GSK is one of more than 100 global players working on COVID-19 vaccines that killed approximately 350,000 people.
It has contributed its adjuvant to alliances involving Chinese biotech companies Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Xiamen Innovax and Chongqing Zhifei, as well as the University of Queensland in Australia and Sanofi. Two more collaborations are ongoing, but have not yet been announced, Breuer added.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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