World’s first plant-based vaccine approved for use in Canada

The world’s first plant-derived Covid-19 vaccine for adults was recently approved in Canada, presenting immense possibilities in terms of production and efficacy.

Known as Covifenz, the two-dose vaccine is the sixth COVID-19 shot to receive regulatory clearance in the country and was jointly developed by Medicago Inc., a biopharma company based in Quebec City, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

The Covifenz® COVID-19 vaccine is a SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) recombinant (adjuvanted), protein virus-like particle (VLP). The vaccine uses a unique plant-based technology. The technology synthesizes the virus’s genetic code so that its genetic instructions can be read by plants. The living plants are used as bioreactors in the vaccine development process to produce a non-infectious particle that copies the target virus.

The Canadian government has placed an order for up to 76 million doses and the company is working to fulfil the order as soon as possible.

In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to be 71 per cent effective against symptomatic infection and 100% effective against severe disease caused by COVID-19.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to closely monitor the safety of this vaccine, and will take action if any safety concerns are identified.

Canada has approved several vaccines including those based on mRNA technology from Moderna and Pfizer. The country has also recently cleared Novavax’s protein-based shot for use in adults. The company is looking to apply for approval of the shot in Japan and is also discussing with the U.S. government and regulatory authorities in Europe and Asia about distributing the vaccine.

According to the World Health Organization, plant-derived vaccines have several advantages. Besides being able to be produced cheaply in very large amounts, carrier plants such as potatoes and corn are readily accepted by patients and antigens derived from them are stable and can be stored for long periods of time. The likelihood that contamination by a plant virus would have an adverse effect on humans is almost negligible.

However, there are several technical challenges concerning plant-derived vaccines that must be resolved before they can enter wide-scale use and the regulatory requirements for this novel class of vaccines must be established. In addition, it takes time to establish trust amongst the public for these vaccines.

Plant-derived foods and products have been changing the way we think about and consume food. With the introduction of plant-derived vaccines, medicine is another growth frontier. Medicago’s approved plant-based vaccine gives people who are hesitant to take currently available vaccines produced by Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. another option to consider.

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