Canadian health officials have given approval to a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, the first of its type.
Covifenz, developed as a joint-venture between Canada‘s Medicago and the UK’s GlaxoSmithKline, uses plant material to mimic the virus’s spike protein once injected into a person’s body.
The shot received approval from Canadian regulators for use in residents aged 18 to 64 on Thursday.
It showed 71 percent effectiveness at preventing infection from Covid before Omicron, though trials were conducted before the rise of the variant late last year, meaning there is still no data for how effective the jab is against the dominant strain.
How much of a roll this shot will play in the country’s vaccine rollout going forward in unknown, as Canada already has readily available access to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, among others.
Canada’s Medicago has received approval for its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, Covifenz, in its home nation. It if the first plant-based vaccine to receive authorization to fight Covid anywhere in the world (file photo)
The vaccine works by using plant particles to mimic the virus’s spike protein, similar to how the mRNA vaccine uses its technology (file photo)
‘The approval of our COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone for Canada in the fight against the pandemic’ Takashi Nagao, president of Medicago, said in a statement.
The vaccine is a two-dose jab that is ‘refrigerator stable’, meaning it does not requires the hyper-cold storage that the Moderna and Pfizer shots do for transport.
Phase 3 trials for the shot included 24,000 adults in six countries. Not enough data for the over 65 age group was gathered for regulators to make a decision.
The jab works by using plant-based particles that can create a faux-spike protein the the body.
When the immune system ejects this protein, it will then create antibodies to fight the virus. This is also how the mRNA vaccines work.
National health officials are touting the vaccine as a way back into the biotechnology sphere for Canada, a nation they say has fallen behind.
‘As one of our government’s top priorities has been to reverse the 40-year decline faced by Canada’s biomanufacturing sector, we are pleased to see Medicago’s vaccine approval,’ Francois-Philippe Champagne, a Canadian parliament member, said in a statement.
‘It is a great milestone for Canada’s biotechnology sector and for homegrown innovation.’
There are still questions to answer for the jab going forward, though, especially because other countries will not be as eager to grant approval to the shot out of a sense of national pride.
The vaccine is effective against the Delta variant and other previous strains of Covid, but many of those have all but vanished in recent months.
Omicron is the most infectious version of Covid yet, and combined with its even more infectious BA.2 lineage, other strains of the virus have been pushed into obscurity.
It is the most mutated strain yet as well, and it has so many changes from other versions of Covid that it can evade protection provided by the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other vaccines made for older virus strains.
While booster shots have proved to be effective at shoring up protection for the other shots, Covifenz does not yet have an approved booster.
The shot will have some competition as well. Novavax’s protein shot, which could be the most effective and durable yet, has begun its global rollout and will likely be available in America soon as well.
Glaxo also has a protein based vaccine, a joint venture with French pharma giant Sanofi, seeking authorization from U.S. officials.
Both of the shots have demonstrated effectiveness against Omicron in lab trials, and protein based shots can also be stored at fridge temperatures, removing a potential advantage the Canadian shot may have.
Canada also already has five other approved vaccines, and has purchase contracts in place with Pfizer and Moderna to buy Covid vaccines and booster shots from the companies at least through next year.